Singer-songwriter Kyle Anne Duggan takes country and folk influences on her 2016 EP release and works them in a way that seems at odds with the broad and sunny nature of her native Florida. It shows that it’s possible to feel country roots anywhere, you don’t have to have a link with Nashville or small back-woods towns that conjure up images of local stores and grocers. Perhaps it even shows the performer is at odds with the state; these songs exploring what she herself calls “a love hate relationship” with the place in which she grew up. The five songs on ‘The Florida EP’ have an old soul and yet still feel somewhat contemporary.
By way of an elaborate intro, ‘O My Weary Heart’ presents just over a minute’s worth of multi-tracked voices, the full sound of which finds a space between Appalachian traditions and a new country smoothness. As a taster of what’s to come, in some ways it’s a red herring, while in other ways, it’s old world stance leads the listener into Kyle’s world of open spaces filled by introspective personal tales. One of the EP’s best tracks, ‘Florida’ has a very appealing tune from the outset, with country inflected finger-picked guitar work flushed out by a shuffling drum line and cry of a steel guitar. A great arrangement such as this needs an equally good voice, and Kyle’s voice calls with a genuine clarity. Without any of the filtering or other studio tricks that a bigger budget would afford, her voice is left to show its real sound and here she shows off a great voice. Her natural approach breathes a life into a tale of restlessness, of potential homesickness, as she tells of how “New England broke [her] heart” and in other cities she showed her heart publicly to prove the hard locales and people had never bested her. No matter where the travelling heart is, she “wants to be in Florida”…until she gets back there. It’s a well-worn tale of how we’re often wishing we were elsewhere instead of living in the moment, but Kyle manages to tackle the familiar subject with spark. Great stuff, indeed.
Reason enough to check out this EP, ‘Fold’ drops into something even more intricate, with Kyle trading in some of her more country traits for more of an acoustic singer-songwriter vibe. The finger-picked guitar work is simply lovely, evoking early work by Jewel and the under-rated Dayna Manning, while vocally, her singular voice cries out with an aching wonder as she explores themes of closing days, the fading sun and the simple joys of calmness and warmth with a loved one on fire-lit evenings. On the other end of the emotional scale, ‘Do You?’ appears confrontational at first, with the protagonist questioning “…think I’m too big for my britches?” and while recounting moments from a bad break-up, her voice appears higher and harder than before; her once flowing acoustic work replaced by hard strums. There’s a balance here, too, of course, and a steel guitar accompaniment brings everything back to a more friendly clime, while some well placed harmonies accentuate the country elements farther. Another personal (and harsh) song ‘Snake In The Grass’ applies the wronged woman scenario to a bluesier arrangement while hanging onto a little Americana goodness, with Kyle finding a musical space that is both sparse and tough. The strutting chords keep a brilliant live in the studio feel – complete with fingers sliding audibly across the frets – while an accompanying electric guitar calls out with some 50s inspired bluesy tones suggesting that someone associated with the recording is a Chris Isaak fan. While, musically, Kyle is at her strongest on the more flowing, acoustic material, there’s no doubting her vocal presence.
The natural style of these tracks allows life to flow through each bar with a perfect balance between production polish and live-sounding performance, always with Kyle’s voice front and centre, crying out with an appealing country-folk trill. There are many underground and homespun singer-songwriters out there, but this recording really stands out. Even with it’s sometimes very DIY feel, ‘The Florida EP’ has some very special moments.