Kendl Winter has talent. With a voice that switches seamlessly from Alison Krauss to Jessica Lea Mayfield and the banjo-picking skills to match, it is little wonder that the weaker points on her latest release, Apple Core, are those moments when she decides to welcome another vocalist into the studio.
Apple Core was recorded on a boat in the Puget Sound (Winter was born in Arkansas but is now based out of Olympia), but the resulting shaky moments on the record seem to add to rather than detract from Winter’s stripped down tunes. While the album has an undeniable bluegrass feel to it, Winter’s banjo picking has its own unique, mournful character. Rather than aiming for speed, she gives each note space to breathe, and the occasional slide of the pedal steel adds nicely to her expansive melodies.
On bluegrass style tunes like “Bluebird on the Mountainside” and “Waiting for the Taker,” Winter’s hauntingly breathy voice adds something distinctive and far-removed from the traditional all-male bluegrass sound. On slower songs like “On to Me,” and “I’m a Child,” Winter falls into a more singer-songwriter feel, handling her banjo almost like a guitar and letting her voice take center stage.
Sometimes Winter’s lyrics are a little bit out there. “Dr. Tiller” is a strange recounting of the murder of a Wichita abortion doctor in which Winter narrates in a plain talking manner. “Dance Gently on My Grave” invites the listener to do exactly as the title suggests. However, songs like “I’m a Child,” which is both a lament for youth lost and an acceptance of maturity, and “Too Much Sugar in My Bellyache,” a great old-fashioned straight-from-Appalachia tune, more than make up for the oddities.
The beauty of Apple Core lies in its ability to unite its many parts into one cohesive whole. Lighthearted, upbeat country-infused tunes like the title track fit nicely next to mournful reflective tunes that regularly pass the five-minute mark. Winter showcases a wide-ranging talent, likely due to her experience playing solo and as a member of both The Blackberry Bushes String Band and The Pasties (self-described indie-dance-folk-punk musicians). While not likely to turn many heads, Apple Core is an interesting display for an artist who clearly has many talents.