Katie Scott originally thought musical theatre would be her path, but hearing Regina Spektor on the radio a few years back gave her a spark of confidence. It was then she realised she had a hankering to write and perform her own songs. The Gisborne-born 25-year-old had known sisters Bronwyn and Kayla Turei (aka The Miss T's) since their school days, and while flatting with them in Auckland, a trio was formed, with three voices, two guitars and bass.
Bronwyn (who plays Cody in popular local TV series Go Girls) and Kayla have a natural musicality from a childhood of family jamming, and the strength of the debut collection of songs on That's the Game is the way their honeyed harmonies weave beautifully around Scott's as she tells whimsical stories in her unique vocal lilt. Think Joni Mitchell crossed with Lily Allen and Kate Bush, perhaps. Sweetheart and One Up On You have a definite cheeky Allen attitude, and contrast nicely with the genuine ache of I Will Wait.
The EP also features the talents of Chris O'Connor (SJD and Don McGlashan) on drums and Gareth Thomas (Goodshirt) on keys, with Ben King (Goldenhorse) producing (and lending the odd guitar riff).
Another songstress who has a list of prestigious names on her album is Christchurch-based Amiria Grenell - though in her case a few of them are family. She grew up on a horsebreeding farm in Canterbury. Her parents - Dad is country singer John Grenell - ran the Whitecliffs Family Music Festival for 14 years, and had close ties with the infamous Gathering Festival. Her older brothers are both professional musicians, Redford drumming with the likes of Shapeshifter and Julia Deans and engineer and producer Oakley releasing albums as a solo artist. Amiria has kept her music rather closer to the rolling countryside than her brothers, combining gentle folk and alt-country with her delicate, almost naive voice. There are slide guitar, harmonica, and wurlitzer decorating lyrics inspired by the landscape, world issues, and being a young parent. You can hear the motherly quality in her delivery, though it would be great if she'd let rip occasionally with a bit more punch and emotion. Title track Three Feathers is the highlight, using a touch of taonga puoro woven tastefully into her pastoral tapestry.
Ria Hall has also done an excellent job of melding Maori cultural references into her debut self-titled EP. Having spent years performing with artists like Hollie Smith, Trinity Roots and Eru Dangerspiel, and garnering a great response to her performance of World in Union at the Rugby World Cup opening ceremony, she shows her true colours on this five-track collection that blends electronica, future soul, west coast hip-hop, dancehall ragga and R&B.
With snatches of Te Reo, the tracks build a picture of Tauranga-born Hall's personal history, tackling identity, and the issues facing contemporary Maori culture. Ko Au Ko Ia manages to weave all of this with a grooving modern set of beats, without being heavy handed. The quality of the production (by former TrinityRoots drummer Riki Gooch) and her powerful voice remain at the forefront in this uniquely Kiwi version of R&B.
L.A. Mitchell's latest EP is also in the R&B, jazz, soul vein, albeit with pop leanings that make for some catchy moments. She's got an entirely different vocal quality from Hall, and if you like Ladi6's style then you'll surely enjoy this release which embraces electronica, beats-based production from D:UNK, and showcases Mitchell's keyboard talents. When It's All Too Much is a highlight with buzzing synths, cascading organ lines and layered vocals. She's an integral part of Dave Dobbyn's band, and also the Dukes, and she's found a wide fanbase with her contributions to Fly My Pretties, but here she gets to put forward a much stronger, darker persona, and it works, except on My Baby And I, which could've been left out.
Victoria Girling-Butcher has also performed with Dave Dobbyn, plus she spent 10 years performing as part of pop-rock trio Lucid 3, and on her debut solo album Summit Drive she's opted to lean towards a rock chick sound. Guitars are to the fore, electric and acoustic, and she has an impressive backing band in Jol Mulholland, Andrew Keoghan, and Wayne Bell, who also add some beautiful male chorus backing vocals. It ranges from the bright opening track Night Scout, and optimistic centrepiece Summit Drive, to more devilish rock track The Taxidermist, the slightly sinister, sensuous Madly Rapidly, and on the quiet reflection of Mirror Mirror the influence of her backing band is evident in the inventive arrangements. She may be a rock chick, but she's hit her stride balancing that with a warmth and vulnerability that lets the listener in.
Katie Scott & The Miss T's
That's The Game EP
Verdict: Whimsical, cheeky pop songs featuring Go Girls star
Verdict: Lovingly gentle, and pastoral alt-folk album which could use just a bit more guts
Ria Hall EP
Verdict: One part Te Reo, two parts squelching electronic beats, three parts soulful voice
The Concept - EP#2
Verdict: Mitchell dips into dark soul and R&B for some strong results
Verdict: Beautifully balanced album of rock, pop and folk from ex-Lucid 3 frontwoman