As your ears attune to the pin drop purity and transcendent exquisiteness of Kari Kirkland’s soulful yet ethereal vocals on her lush, deeply intimate debut album Wild is the Wind, you may find yourself connecting so intensely to her breathy emotional invitations that you’ll wonder why this is the first time you’re hearing from her. Simple explanation – a wild resume/history that includes being an Ironman triathlete, private chef, flying trapeze and bungee artist and co-owner with her husband Gary of a production company that created elaborate circus shows for corporate events.
While Kari’s previous endeavors may have reflected a wild, Type-A personality, her approach to this glorious set of Songbook standards and offbeat pop classics – guided by her co-producer, four-time Grammy nominated pianist and arranger Shelly Berg – is just the opposite. Subtle. Sly. Sultry. Spacious. Too cool for school. Yet also eminently hipster in her ability to soothe and caress us while at the same time keeping us excited in anticipation for her next turns of phrase.
Material-wise, Kari and Berg choose wisely, from discovering the dreaminess of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” (with the help of John Daversa’s wafting trumpet strains) and adding a touch of blues to Labrith’s UK hit “Jealous” to a slow burning spin through James Taylor’s tongue in cheek “Steamroller Blues” and a lighthearted romp through Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” so infectious that it scored over 50,000 Spotify streams just a few weeks after its January 2021 release.
Not that a promising artist of Kari’s caliber needs one, but another key selling point to Wild is the Wind is the opportunity to hear the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove add smoky harmonic color to the moody standard “Too Late Now.” A quote from Berg about why he chose to work with Kari sums everything up far more perfectly than any words I could write: “Kari’s voice and style are uniquely her. There is a depth of truth and heart in her singing that is very, very compelling.”