Way Down Low
Jazz artists—Herbie Hancock or George Benson, say—usually make their crossover move after they’ve tried the straight-ahead thing for a while. Austin singer KAT EDMONSON did it the other way around. Her song “Be the Change” was a viral Internet phenomenon during the last presidential election, a catchy tune accompanied by a video with a simple conceit: people holding up cardboard signs answering the question “What Would You Do If You Were President?” Yet her first album, Take to the Sky, released the following year, was primarily a jazz record, on which she applied her uncanny voice (think a young Ernestine Anderson—tart, fluid, alluring) to songs by composers ranging from Cole Porter to John Lennon. She now splits her time between Texas and New York City, where she has immersed herself in the jazz scene, and her sparsely arranged new album, WAY DOWN LOW (Spinnerette), shows that she isn’t standing still musically. Edmonson’s girlish tone can seem overly mannered, but she keeps using it in startling new ways. Sung as a sorrowful ballad, her old-world take on the Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” might be the album’s creative centerpiece. It’s something of an anomaly, though; unlike her debut, Way Down Low is largely made up of original compositions. While some of her songs (the bossa nova–inspired “What Else Can I Do” and the shuffle “Long Way Home”) are clearly better than others, this refined, understated set is a welcome antidote to these frantic times.