Album Review: Kaia Kater – Grenades

Kaia Kater’s new album Grenades tells the story of her experience as a child of an immigrant, linking to her father’s story of leaving his homeland of Grenada for Canada as a child. Kater adds her traditional banjo to new sonic landscapes of lush instrumentation, creating an album of atmospheric modern folk music.

The album is produced by Erin Costelo and Kater purposely wanted to work with women on this project, explaining the reasons for this decision in a recent interview. “I realized that on Nine Pin, I had accidentally hired all men. I think more and more, because of the conversations going on about how there needs to be gender parity at music festivals, I think it’s also really important for artists to hire more women,” Kater said. “It just so happened that all the women that we hired are the best in the business.” Kater understands the need for action as well as activism and it is refreshing to see a woman on the production credits.

The opening song sets the understated and thoughtful tone for the record. The title references the Statue of Liberty’s New Colossus poem which has now come to symbolise the importance of protecting those poor huddled masses who hope for shelter and protection in a new place. Immigration and what it means to belong to a country is a central concern of the album.

The banjo is central to the Heavenly Track, and her voice adds to the dreamy sound. Despite a move towards a less traditional folk sound other songs on the album like Canyonland and The Right One also have the banjo at the core – there is something haunting about the rhythms her instrument creates. The most traditional folk song on the album is La Misere – an old Grenadian chant she found in the archives, lovingly adapted and brought back to life.

Throughout the album her father’s voice can be heard, with snippets of his powerful story interspersed between the songs. Title track Grenades, referencing the homelands of Grenada where her father fled and the weapons he escaped from too. On the introduction to the song entitled ‘Death of a Dream’ her father tells of the shocking destruction caused by the American military. The title track takes up his story and continues a quiet assessment of the world’s ongoing problems. Kaia’s desolate song sounds like she’s observing the world burning and shaking her head slowly.

Final song ‘Poets Be Buried’ finishes her story and her father’s too. On the song she asks ‘I asked my father: is this all there is? A home that won’t claim you’. It’s a quietly powerful way to end this thoughtful album – asking for the cycle to be broken, marching in hope of a better future.

Kaia Kater is on tour in the U.K. this month and will be appearing at Celtic Connections next Thursday with Rachel Baiman.

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