Review Summary: A beautiful voice finds a home in the Irish countryside.
Switching from comedy to a more serious venture must be one hell of a gamble. When you’ve been making audiences laugh for so long, it’s hard to step away from that and out of the comfort zone you’ve created. There have certainly been examples of musicians and actors becoming successful outside of their comedic origins, such as Joji and Jim Carrey. However, that first one is especially noteworthy, as it’s one of the few cases in which a Youtuber was able to accomplish such a feat. Hell, this guy was Filthy Frank! His shocking exploits played a huge part in why Youtube have been so censorship-happy in recent years. And yet… he did it! He was able to reinvent himself as a more serious and introspective musician and has garnered quite a bit of acclaim for his work.
Malinda Kathleen Reese is in a similar situation now, although how she got there was much different. Her comedy was much cleaner and more light-hearted, with her main Youtube series being Translator Fails. Essentially, she would put song lyrics through Google Translate and get weird results, leading to her singing this more amusing version of the tune. Pretty simple premise, but effective. However, there was always something else that had me going back to her videos, even ones that I wasn’t laughing at quite as hard: her fantastic voice. To put it bluntly, Reese always had the potential to be a breakout star on her voice alone. It’s crisp and clear, while having a mildly operatic quality about it; while I imagine some level of pitch correction is used in her videos, that’s a really minor nitpick (and let’s be real: most singers use pitch-correction in the studio). So the prospect of her having a serious music career was quite exciting. However, another development was happening in the background: her Celtic influence.
That last part is crucial when talking about this new EP The Folks I love
, as Reese went all-in with the Irish folk sound for these songs. It’s quite an interesting swerve, seeing as her previous EP Love Letter
was mostly in the vein of standard pop music. What’s notable about this new project is just how committed Reese is to this new direction, opting to keep most of her pop influences out of the picture in favor of a more authentic take on Celtic music. Her voice is still bright and glossy as if it were on a pop recording, but there’s a lot of personality behind it; this is most apparent in her expressive vibrato and lush harmonies. The first track “The Parting Glass” sets the tone for the EP nicely, complete with lively flute melodies and jaunty acoustic guitar backing; it’s a good thesis statement for what Reese seems poised to accomplish with this style going forward, and those aforementioned vocal harmonies really help complete the rest of the tune.
“Dúlamán” takes the folk influences a step further, using its short runtime to update a traditional Irish ballad. This song has been covered countless times - most famously by the group Clannad on their album of the same name - but Reese offers a nice approach of her own as well. The percussion really stands out here, being busy and nimble while remaining tasteful and authentic; meanwhile, the lyrics are entirely in Irish and sung quite beautifully. The rest of The Folks I Love
follows in this traditional folk format with one perplexing exception: “Galway Girl”. Yeah, I get that the song mentions Irish bands with fiddles and such. But including an Ed Sheeran song in the middle of this EP just seems out-of-place and unneeded; it’s easily the poppiest track in the collection, and the slight folk influences don’t mask the fact that the song could have been replaced with a more thematically and musically interesting tune. Thankfully, “Scarborough Fair” and the short closer “Edge of Night” do pick up the slack nicely. The former is another song that’s been done to death, but Reese does a fine rendition regardless; the latter is a more solemn and minimalist piece with a heavy emphasis on haunting vocal melodies, ending the EP on quite a lovely note.
The Folks I Love
strikes me as a mere hint at what’s to come from Reese’s new direction, as this doesn’t seem like just a one-off project. There are obviously several avenues that could be explored in the vein of Celtic music; maybe she’ll continue making more traditional folk ballads, maybe she’ll infuse a bit more pop into the mix and create something of an Irish folk-pop hybrid, or maybe she’ll even go the folk-punk route a la The Pogues. Who really knows at this stage? In any case, it’s an exciting prospect. On top of anything else, The Folks I Love
is an interesting shift in direction that could potentially develop into a signature sound for Malinda Kathleen Reese. I suppose we’ll just have to see what comes of it.