Vancouver singer/songwriter Mary Kastle has found a muse in her Rhodes piano. Since acquiring the vintage instrument in the spring of 2008, she’s lovingly hauled the soulful piece to live performances and features it prominently on her latest and first full-length album Beneath the Folds.
Together with her formal jazz training, piano lounge experience and folk label day job, the Rhodes has brought a dimension to Kastle’s craft that makes Beneath the Folds a virtual throwback to the days of Motown, and a unique spin on modern music. It’s made for a bold and enticing debut album and her first for Vancouver roots label Black Hen Music.
“A little bit of folk, a little bit of jazz and a lot of soul,” is the way Kastle describes the musical mix on an album that includes reggae, boss nova, swing, gospel, Motown and a pinch of piano bar vibe from her years of playing jazz and pop standards in lounges.
Consistent with the writing on her two previous EPs Fresh Air and Another Swing, Kastle’s propensity for exploring themes around self-expression and inner growth came through loud and clear on Beneath the Folds, but with a newfound directness and less self-effacement than in her earlier works. “Early on in the writing process, a close friend challenged me to be more direct in my songwriting, both lyrically and musically. The result was a shift in my approach and a deeper appreciation for what I had to offer as a musician. Some of the first songs that came, like “Drop Your Cover,” are about letting your guard down and just being yourself. I found the blues and some really old-school gospel forms to be quite conducive to expressing those ideas.”
Kastle’s innovative mix of new and old musical forms coincided with a major shift in the world around her. “Bush was leaving office and Obama was coming in, and there was a lot of hope and disappointment being felt simultaneously. Around me people were losing their jobs and many of the women I was observing were struggling with tough decisions like striking a balance between career vs. family. This is reflected in the subtext in songs like “Beggin’,” “Julia,” “Fortress” and “False Alarm.” The stories are personal, but they also mirror big-picture political and social shifts.”
The beauty of her shifting styles and up-tempo approach is that there’s something for everyone on this album. Not to mention an unshakeable beat that grabs hold and makes you sway. With the groove as her signature, Kastle’s versatile palette has evoked comparisons to other soulful songsmiths such as Rufus Wainwright, Norah Jones, Stevie Wonder, and Tori Amos.
Produced by Juno award winning guitarist Steve Dawson, Beneath the Folds features some of Vancouver’s finest jazz talent including Kastle’s longtime collaborator on drums, Paul Elias, renowned jazz bassist Andre Lachance, enigmatic guitarist Jeff Younger, Karen Graves on saxophone, Kent Wallace on trumpet, Steve Dawson on guitars and pedal steel, and the lovely Alice Dawson singing backup vocals on “Beneath the Folds”. “I usually have a fairly strong vision going in but I wanted it to be a collaborative experience,” says Kastle. “The whole crew all brought so much to the table.”
And if that vision included charming, entertaining and seducing listeners into a funky groove, then Kastle, with crew and Rhodes in tow, succeeds wildly on Beneath the Folds.