Montana native Kati O’Toole gets off on the right foot with On Ashland. While the tunes themselves aren’t necessarily earth shattering, her lyrics are strong, her band talented and the clean production a clear indication of her degree from Berklee.
Some songs shine brighter than others—“Take Me Dancin’” and “Between These Lines” are both lovely, for instance, but “Sunshine” in its slow minor key feels duller than the name implies. Ultimately, though, O’Toole maintains a cohesive tone throughout the album. In her sultry dynamic voice she slides through playful and sorrowful lyrics, always freshly autobiographical as she remembers wide-open spaces left behind and ponders the solitary city life.
“I haven’t felt this alive in such a long time,” comes from the chorus of “Song of the North,” and the same is true about her songs’ ethos—they are snapshot stories about life and longing. While enjoyable on the surface, On Ashland’s true beauty is in the details: the accent notes from a barroom-esque piano, the bright xylophone in “Move,” the lyric “I’ll wear that dress… my grandma sewed way back in 1962.”
With instrumentals that run the gamut of rustic mandolin to synthetic strings, and refreshing attention to sounds and images, it’s a promising debut. (Melissa Mylchreest)