KT Tunstall "Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon"

KT Tunstall strips away the pop to create a masterpiece of subtle melodies and intricate arrangements

KT Tunstall’s new album is a reflective, sometimes somber, but ultimately beautiful and mature effort that examines mortality and emotional upheaval. Known for her fiery pop/rock songs, this is a real turn in career direction for the Scottish musician, but one that should win her a new level of respect as a writer and singer. Recorded in Tucson, Arizona with musician/producer Howe Gelb, the album grew out of two major events that occurred in Tunstall’s life: the death of her father and the end of her marriage. Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon was recorded in two separate sessions separated by six months. The change in mood between the two sections is a subtle distinction suggested by additional use of electric guitar and percussion on the latter half. It also explains the album’s double title.

For fans used to Tunstall’s high energy, shining pop production this album is going to come as a shock. Although her songs continue to be melodic, they are much more elusive and ethereal. On the first half of the record electric guitar has been traded in for nylon strings. Pedal steel, piano, clarinet, cello, and mellotron create the structure for the songs. Where Tunstall’s past albums are built on rhythm these tracks put the focus on the singer’s vocals and its fine work indeed. Nuanced phrasing is one element; another is the quality of the voice, clear and finely tuned. “Made Of Glass,” the album’s second track, was recorded in one take, and it’s as pristine a performance as she has ever given. “How You Kill Me” features jazzy undertones and discreet arrangements that shadow the singer. “Carried” offers a complex melody unlike anything Tunstall has offered to date. “Old Man” is a sweet farewell to her late father.

The second half of the album, Crescent Moon, begins with a hollow sounding piano reminiscent of Tom Waits’ early recording. A plaintive Tunstall vocal rises above it like a moon while drums, electric guitar, strings and euphonium build to crescendo, only to ebb and grow again. Once again, the arrangements are intricate and intriguing. The album’s first single “Feel It All” is a remix of the version you’ll find on the album, which is a stripped down, acoustic version of the song.

Tunstall and Gelb make a great musical team. They duet on the lovely ballad “Chimes” with his gruff voice offsetting her smooth lilt. They are joined by John Parrish who has most recently worked with PJ Harvey. There are so many reasons to recommend this album including Tunstall’s proficiency as a guitarist. Suffice to say that with Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon KT Tunstall has risen to a new level of artistry. 

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)