By Jim Simpson
Wildcat Creek finds The Good Graces’ founder Kim Ware taking her brand of minimalist indie folk-pop to another level with a mere four songs featuring the threesome of Ware, producer/musician Jay Manley and his wife Jane Francis.
Local multi-instrumentalist Ware has been writing blazingly honest songs since 2007 when she picked up a used guitar at the late Lakewood Antiques Market. Her early work began as an outlet after a relationship went sour, and the resulting first album fronting The Good Graces, 2008’s Sunset Over Saxapahaw (Eskimo Kiss), was understandably melancholy — “a blend of shoegaze and folk” as Ware herself has referred to it. The current EP (third release overall), displays a brightness and maturity, an upbeat awareness that things can, and should, be better.
Recorded at Manley’s country house outside Chapel Hill, N.C., these songs have more in common with jangly college-radio indie-pop of yore (The Feelies, Dumptruck, The Reivers, Kristin Hersh) than with contemporaries like Bright Eyes, La Sera or Ben Kweller.
“Summer of ‘93” opens the slim and sunny set with images of heading west, making love in the desert, dumping a troubled past, wiping the slate – clichéd totems to be sure, but Ware’s style is so appealing, so laid back and flowing, that she’s hard to resist, especially when you realize this song is actually a grinning and veiled ultimatum. Her argument is effective: “They say the grass is never greener/If nothing else at least it’s cleaner/This plane is boarding/Here’s your warning sign.”
The undeniable standout is “It Gets Louder,” with its dirty chords, Bacharachian horns and ‘60s pop scat. The cut is the most richly textured and multi-layered of the four, a quintessential pop song, charming and rough around the edges yet hopelessly catchy.
“Black/Light” has a dark radiance which most notably highlights Ware’s talents: her unadorned vocal style (reminiscent of Mo Tucker on “After Hours”), her musicianship (she also plays drums and most of the instruments on Wildcat) and her production prowess as Manley takes lead guitar and keys, his wife Jane on a sonorous bowed upright bass.
Ware, who grew up in North Carolina, seems comfortable and self-assured on her native turf, and equally so on the solo number “If I Had A Boat” recorded in her (living room? bedroom?) house in Atlanta. The song seems little more than a polished three-chord acoustic demo, bookended with birds chirping and children shouting in the background, but again the pure simplicity of the looping chords becomes hypnotic, while the eponymous boat acts as a metaphor for a free and untethered life. Wildcat Creek offers a snapshot of an artist continuing to seek her place in the world.