Home Read Albums Of The Week: Tami Neilson | Kingmaker

Albums Of The Week: Tami Neilson | Kingmaker

By balancing defiant feminist anthems with ambitiously expansive production, the powerhouse vocalist fashions her most focused and fully realized release to date.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Recorded at Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studios in her adopted hometown of Auckland, New Zealand, Kingmaker marks Canadian-born singer-songwriter Tami Neilson’s most provocative and powerful collection to date. Fueled by the world-changing events of the past two years, the album’s songs expose and explode the patriarchal structures that pervade the music industry, family life, and society as a whole.

While Neilson has previously explored these themes on such acclaimed LPs as 2018’s Sassafrass!, the new album draws these challenging ideas out even further, shining a dramatic musical light on what the late bell hooks referred to as “the politics of domination” that render women nameless and voiceless. Songs like Baby, You’re A Gun and the cinematic title track see Neilson giving her own resonant voice to women everywhere — to their strength, power, fierceness, and resilience in the face of structural and cultural barriers to their full participation in society.

No one forgets the first time they saw Neilson. She can hush a room with an original song that channels the hurting spirit of Patsy Cline or the sensuality of Peggy Lee, or bring the audience to its feet on a rockabilly raver. She’s an artist with real range, whose powerful voice can take on big ballads, golden-age country, heartfelt gospel, soul-infused R&B, Western swing, even old-style rock ’n’ roll. Neilson encompasses them all and is a personality-powered cyclonic force of nature in stylishly retro attire, long lashes and a stacked-high beehive.

Photo by Sophia Bayly.

Born in Toronto, Tami grew up performing with The Neilsons, the family band featuring parents Betty and Ron (her late father a songwriter of considerable accomplishment) and brothers Todd (drums) and Jay (bass). The years on the road spent learning her craft enabled her to explore her increasing vocal and emotional range and build a deep well of musical influences. From being cradled as a baby in the arms of Roy Orbison, singing with Kitty Wells at the age of 10, and opening for Johnny Cash in her pajamas at 18, she had already led an extraordinary life before leaving North America in 2007 to start her own family in New Zealand, where she has resided ever since. It was there Neilson forged her own path as a critically acclaimed artist and songwriter, busking on the streets of Auckland and performing in countless clubs before ultimately earning wide-ranging applause and awards.

Her early records saw her in a self-created territory between mainstream country and alternative country, a couple recorded around the kitchen table back home in Canada with brother Jay, who is now an acclaimed producer and songwriter. Then awards started coming in New Zealand for albums that added breadth to her “country singer” label: Best Female Artist, Best Country Album, Best Country Song, an APRA Silver Scroll (songwriting) award and Album of the Year nominations. Her Dynamite! album of 2014 and 2020’s Chickaboom! received rave reviews. Her songs have appeared on the Netflix series Wanted and the terrestrial TV series Nashville.

With her tireless work ethic, seemingly infinite musical gifts, and subversive songwriting approach, Neilson has already found extraordinary success on her own terms. Now, with the groundbreaking Kingmaker, she takes her music and message even further, using her one-of-a-kind voice to rattle cages and change the game for those who have been denied their rightful place at the table for far too long.”

 

Photo by Sophia Bayly