Three years after signing with Sony Music Canada, Kira Isabella is finally rising to prominence as the opening act for the Canadian leg of Carrie Underwood’s breathtaking Blown Away tour. In perhaps her biggest moment yet, the 19-year-old played to 14,000 in her hometown Ottawa on Saturday night. As the Ottawa Citizen wrote the next day, “Isabella was comfortable and confident on stage, her big smile showing that she was in her element.” As a tribute to this landmark moment for the young artist, I’ve gotten around reviewing her album, “Love Me Like That”, which has been sitting in my CD changer for a couple months now.
Isabella’s debut effort opens with “Blame It On Your Truck”. This catchy number describes the classic excuse for getting home late after a date. At first her breathy voice seems almost too innocent for the lyrics, but you get used to her vocal style before long.
“Love Me Like That”, for which the album is named, was the first single released to radio, and cracked the Canadian Hot 100 back in 2011. It’s a soft, sweet melody, with a simple guitar backing. It sounds at points in this song like Isabella has to force her voice, as though she doesn’t quite have the range she needs. I also find the song a bit too precious, but I’m largely alone in that sentiment. Most people seem to like it.
This brings up another point I notice off and on throughout the album. Isabella lacks the raw vocal power of country music’s current superstars like Underwood or Miranda Lambert, but inviting those comparisons is unfair. Her voice is softer, at times to a fault, but it serves to portray the singer as something of a wide-eyed young girl, a bit like another up-and-comer, Tara Oram.
As soon as I draw this conclusion, however, Isabella flips a switch and comes out with “A Little More Work”. Her latest single turns out to be the best song on the album, and it’s only partly because of the sassy guitar work. Her voice has a slightly harder, flirty edge, and it works like magic. The come-hither tone will have any red-blooded male ready to do whatever it takes to win her over – and has this one singing along in falsetto every time it comes on.
“A Real Good Radio” was the second single, and the one that seemed to launch Isabella’s career, though it never charted. The ode to an old Ford Mustang with “super glue holding up the rearview mirror” is a bit generic in sound, but the lyrics paint a picture that will have anyone reminiscing about their first car.
“Songs About You” is the only song on the album that wasn’t penned by Isabella herself. It does have a certain complexity and range that her other songs don’t quite match, but it complements the rest of the album terrifically. The fact that it’s not even the best song on the album is a real testament to her songwriting ability.
The singer channels a little Taylor Swift with the next number, “I Can Love You Better Than That”. This is one of the better uses of Isabella’s soft voice, and her range seems more easily achieved, as though she’s finally warmed up into it.
The trend of Swift-like sentiments continues with “Little White Church”, which is where the singer wants the new boy in town to meet her – first after church to show him around, but dreaming of another eventual reason.
“Gonna Be A Hot One” is another example of where the teen could use a bit more edge in her voice. It’s melodically interesting, especially through the link and chorus, but the titular line seems to fade off in an unexpected way.
“Dangerously Obvious” starts strong, too, before succumbing to my biggest complaint again – the singer seems uneasy about adding bit of power to the key lyrics. That said, it’s still a solid effort, and you won’t skip past it.
Isabella’s instinct for softening her voice is, however, put to good use in “Her Heart”, a song requiring a touch so gentle that someone like Carrie Underwood or Reba McEntire could never do it justice. In fact, it’s tough to think of another artist capable of singing this number with such delicacy.
The first-time artist closes her album with the instructions found in “My Diary”. Starting on page one, she laments to her crush, “if only you could read/what’s in my diary”. The melody is familiar, as it’s similar to several used on the CD, but if you like one, you’ll like them all.
For a first-time effort, “Love Me Like That” is a great record. “A Little More Work” deserves a ton of airtime, and “Songs About You” ought to do well, too. If Kira Isabella can learn to add a bit of punch to her vocals, it will only improve her performances. As a songwriter, I’m very impressed with Isabella, though several of her tracks are too similar melodically. Touring with Carrie Underwood this year and with veteran Terri Clark in 2013 ought to do her some good. Besides raising her profile even further, Isabella should pay attention to how they add a bit of swagger to some songs. I look forward to seeing what else the young artist can do with a bit more experience and maturity. In the meantime, I’ll keep putting “A Little More Work” on repeat.
“Love Me Like That” is available now.