by: Young Coconut
Silly me. Growing up, I used to think that music could only qualify as “country” if the singer sang in a southern drawl, like all of the famous country stars of the past 50 years or so. You know – Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard – those kinds of folks. Major country stars tend to be from the southern United States and so I was under the impression to be a “country” singer you literally needed to be from that part of the country.
Over the years, when I’d hear certain artists that wouldn’t be from the southern U.S., but singing what sound to me like country songs, I’d get slightly confused. For instance, when I first heard Jewel back in the ’90’s, I thought “Well, it sounds like a country type of song and she looks like a country type of girl but she’s from Alaska so she must be a folk artist I suppose.” This conundrum only got more puzzling as time pressed on, and I kept encountering country singers who A. didn’t sing with the proper southern drawl B. were from different parts of the world, but still seemed to embody the “country music” aesthetic.
Melissa Koehler – Narrator Album Review
Which brings me to Melissa Koehler, a 22-year-old singer-songwriter from my hometown of Cambridge, Ontario, who just released a fairly country-fied album called Narrator. Actually, I’m already lying to you. The album has been out for almost a year, being released June 2016 and also it is more of an EP, featuring 6 songs. Oh, and she’s from Waterloo, not Cambridge. Whoops! Now that I’m done lying about things, let’s get dig into the review shall we?
Melissa Koehler’s Narrator is available on Bandcamp here, which is where I first heard it. In her profile, Melissa proudly states that this is a country album, featuring many of the hallmarks of the genre, such as cheekily humorous lyrics and song titles, fiddles (courtesy of Shane Guse – nicely done!), and a laid back, sunny vibe that makes you want to go out camping or chill in someone’s backyard in the nice weather. Actually, I don’t know if that’s her bio or a bio that someone wrote about her, because it is in the 3rd person. In any case, it all seems fairly on point in terms of discussing who did what and the type of songs that appear on Narrator. I wouldn’t disagree with it, at any rate.
Embracing Country Music
So far as creating a country album that succeeds at embracing the genre and all of its most likeable traits, Melissa sounds like she really knew what she was doing. Her voice is sweet and full of emotion, even when singing about deplorable and somewhat goofy subjects like Tinder. Clearly, the girl isn’t afraid to attack societal norms when necessary (Tinder deserves it some ridicule, for sure).
Another hallmark of country music that Melissa nails is the aching and haunting melodies that you find everywhere throughout country music. Good country music does tend to delve into darker territory at times, and although this album has a certain innocence, you can hear those minor keys and lonely chords showing up on “Devil in Disguise” and “Chevrolet”. She could really go in any direction she’d like in the future, from someone like a T-Swift who basically is an industry unto herself in terms of pop music that pretty much goes anywhere it wants, or a maybe more in the direction of some of the classic female country singers who stick to guitar and vocals as their chosen instruments of expression. I guess we’ll see what happens!
Check out this video of Melissa playing “Chevrolet” stripped down and acoustic style which is her forté.
Narrator Has The Goods
One thing that struck me about Narrator is how well this album is performed and produced for someone so young, not to harp on her age too much. It’s just that when I was that age, I was still recording onto a tape recorder and could barely play or sing or put a song together. Now, here’s Melissa with a full blown pop album (sorry, EP) with everything you might expect from a major label debut. Warm sounds, poppin’ drums, a smooth and in your face vocal performance. Props go to William Muir for what I assume is his mixing job on this project. This is an album that sounds very well put together and captures all the performances appropriately. It suits the arrangements of the songs and the laid back style on display here. There’s no ridiculous auto-tune, or flashes of electronica just to be “experimental”. That said, its not like its dead simple. The melodies go somewhere and tell a story. The instruments come in at the right time, and leave when they ought to. It is well thought out, not overly complicated, and I dig it.
Catch Melissa Koehler Live
Lately, Melissa Koehler has linked up with the folks at The Bridge Live Music Productions, which is a sort of community of like minded musicians (both solo and bands) from Cambridge who like to up and go on tour. Melissa has been kicking up her touring schedule, and, as the summer nears, she has been playing out more and more. Definitely worth checking her out!
You can check out here Melissa’s Facebook page to see what’s going on in terms of shows, in case you’re in the area and want to see her.
Listen to our full interview with Melissa Koehler prior to her bands’ set at Neighbourhood Day 2017 in Cambridge, Ontario. In this interview, we talk about a variety of topics such as her influences and musical inspirations, her time recording in the studio for Narrator, and her plans for the future. Enjoy!