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For as long as Katie Scullin has been kicking around Madison’s music scene it is a bit surprising that Pieces is her first full-length release (her She Smiled EP was released in 2013). Stints with the uber-popular Star Persons and winning 105.5 Triple M’s project M competition in 2014 are indicators that good things come in time and this stunning debut proves it.
Scullin spent a lot of time putting this record together; copyrights indicate songs that were registered between 2009 and 2017. Careful planning included a monumental Kickstarter project of $18,000 which she eclipsed. As the project narrative states, “After two fizzled bands, becoming a new mom and trying to make sense of my yearning desire to make music a career, I decided to go on as a solo artist. I wasn’t going to break up with myself,” a testimony to her persistence and determination that led to a new group commitment.
And it’s a solid band led by her continued partnership with brother and guitarist DJ Scullin. The appropriately surnamed Travis Drumm is remarkable on drums; bassist Nate Wiswall rounding out the precise rhythm section. Darren Mirabelli adds guitars along with both Scullins. Despite being tracked over time and in different locations, the album is cohesive. The glue to the project is Paul Schluter who co-produces and adds guitar tracks, the final tracking and mixing being done at Megatone.
In a somewhat surprising evolution, keyboardist Andrew Traverse appears on three tracks, lending a sophisticated, modern electronic touch. These are some of the strongest, including the title track, a mesmerizing buildup of tension and layered vocals in an unconventional structure. Finally, the guitars all fade out leaving Traverse and Drumm to wind things down in tasteful fashion.
Those who expected more typical singer/songwriter fare will be pleasantry surprised by opener “Whitney,” with Traverse’s electronic accoutrements spicing things up until things go to eleven after the middle section. “Porch Hangs” mines territory somewhere between “Pieces” and “Whitney” the electronics evoking the haze of summer with a sticky sweet melody that goes down easy.
Another surprising offering is “Pretty Lady,” a killer disco/funk workout that will take you straight back to the seventies. This one came straight out of the Project M competition. Here’s a video of Katie performing the song with bro DJ and Drumm at the Project M finals. The song had already morphed significantly from when she first performed it solo earlier in the competition.
Scullin dips in a heavier, dreamier mode with “You and I” a powerful vocal performance with an understated hook that will haunt your head after a few listens. Perhaps the strongest vocal of all happens in the more straight-ahead rocker “Crazy Cora.” A lengthy middle section has Scullin vamping over a driving beat building it into a frenzy before returning to the verse/chorus and taking it out on an impressive vocal climax. Scullins’ vocals, naturally, are the focal point of the album and she delivers on every track, swooning like soul singer, squeaking out sultry pop passion or belting like Pat Benetar. The songs have depth, not banging the listener over the head from the outset. Frequent plays will reap rewards.
Another powerful track is the sublime “Tried and True.” Here’s a video for the song that only hints at the majesty evoked in the fully-produced version.
There’s an overarching tension in the eleven tracks on the album. Whether it’s pieces of a torn life, giving over your heart only to have it handed back in pieces, pieces of a puzzle and how putting an album together can reflect the desperation of keeping life together for the artist, Pieces is also that definition in a song sense. Because the album is so stylistically varied, and given the strength of each song, it plays like a greatest hits package rather than a hodge-podge. That’s a remarkable achievement and if Scullin keeps rolling out albums like this, the real Greatest Hits is going to be incredible.