Kiya Heartwood – ‘Palo Duro’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Kiya Heartwood, an award winning independent music veteran who’s recently dropped her latest studio endeavor, ‘Palo Duro.’ The singer songwriter’s flair for roots rock, folk, and country musings is particularly refreshing because of its remarkable authenticity. ‘Palo Duro’ is an album that embraces a grassroots style that is so missing in the indie scene right now. Let’s explore the new album.

It’s worth immediately noting that I spun ‘Palo Duro’ twice through in-studio on monitors. The production is very good. It’s simplistic, yes, but Heartwood is elegantly accented amidst very complimentary soundscapes of traditional instrumentation, and later on, edgier rock compositions. Often times in the indie scene artists struggle with this type of production. Everything on ‘Palo Duro,’ however, fits into itself nicely to create a pretty full portrait – no mastering problems or ill-organized mixes.

That portrait is very American. This is traditional Americana at its best in the scene right now. While the opening track, ‘Icarus,’ is perfectly pleasant, the titular track that follows is especially good. The atmospheric, reverberated space that Heartwood creates is reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s ‘Man in the Long Black Coat,’ with its raw harmonica sections and sharp lyricism. If the record exhibits anything, it’s that Heartwood is a strong storyteller. That’s her most admirable quality.

I’d argue there are other flairs to the album as well. ‘Mirage,’ for example, has hints of Latin influence scattered throughout. The nylon string classical guitar and hand percussion are very well performed – she’s got a strong backing outfit. It’s a stark contrast to the steel-stringed ‘Palo Duro.’ ‘Ferris Wheel’ then makes another jump, offering a soft spoken, introspective jaunt.

I was a bit worried that this album would fall victim to the same issue a lot of rootsy indie records do – being too long. At ten tracks, it’s a meaty offering that I was worried would get bogged down in repetitious stylings or lyricism. Surprisingly, however, each of the ten tunes is quite apt for inclusion.

Within her own genre niche, Heartwood actually carves out different subsets of styles. Take ‘Fame and Fortune.’ The upbeat tune sounds like it’s straight out of Nashville. Then, you hit ‘White Flag,’ one of my personal favorites on the effort, and you’re greeted with soft, but edgy electric guitar that dances about with rhythm guitar in an anthemic way.

The best track of the latter half of ‘Palo Duro’ may very well be ‘End of the War.’ Completing an electric evolution that was hinted at on ‘White Flag,’ the track hosts some electric guitar musings that are borderline bluesy. Heartwood’s lyricism is at her strongest, too, as she croons, “I never really understood what we were fighting for.”

As the record progresses, Heartwood’s musical themes actually become more rock oriented and more contemporary. This is very good – it gives her some basis in a modern scene that then accentuates her traditional structures. ‘Burial Ground’ is one of the more punchy tracks on the album, an exhibition of gritty, Texan-style rock. ‘Perfect’ then offers a ballad-esque excursion through similar territory.

To close out the album, Heartwood fittingly returns to the traditional stylings of the former half of the collection. ‘Veinte Anos’ directly delves into that Latin/Spanish influence toyed with on ‘Mirage.’ It’s actually a duet with a male vocalist in Spanish set to a sweeping classical guitar. It’s one hell of a closer, and a statement of immense versatility.

Kiya Heartwood genuinely excites me. As a deep lover of traditional Americana, blues, folk, and other similar avenues of music, I see Heartwood as a breath of fresh air amidst a scene very preoccupied with far less genuine endeavors. (A lot of the Americana that comes across my desk is indie rock with an acoustic guitar at best.) This is the real thing. Spin it below!

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