Kat McDowell’s music just makes people happy and her new album Ten absolutely does that – it makes you feel good all day, all over. As the title suggest, there are 10 songs on Ten – which also refers to “hanging ten” on a surfboard, which Kat does – each one offering a different approach to happiness but always with Kat’s trademark pop sound of ukulele, guitar, rhythmic melodies and upbeat tempo in the service of personal stories of love and joy (mostly).
Produced by Adam Berg, “Ten”, Kat’s fifth full-length album, is enriched by contributions from lyricist Richard Rudolph and Servt Fridan. She kicks off the album in a collaborative tune with Monkey Majik in a bouncy paean to moving ahead with love. Then she lets loose with her signature ukulele pop in “Language of My Heart”. There is no stopping the head bobbing and even dancing to this one. The tempo picks up even more and moves into more serious pop rock with “Photographs” and then brings us back to the beach in the Hawaiian-feeling “Never Before to Never Again” using an easy, uncomplex phrasing for just plain earbud fun.
Kat colors the mood a little more deeply in “Maybe Tomorrow” with a lower case guitar strum, backing vocals and strings and synth-tropical beat that carries the lyrics with an introspective look at a lost relationship that…well, maybe tomorrow. But before we contemplate too much, Kat brings us back to her rock presence with “Not Good Enough for Me”– a song that has been in her pocket for many years but is just now getting released — a message of a relationship not exactly perfect but with hooks that keep you coming back.
Kat switches to an introduction in Japanese – she was born in Japan, raised in New Zealand and lives in LA – with the artist YUKA for “Candle”, smoothly blending hers and YUKA’s voice even though they were thousands of miles from each other sending sound files back and forth online. My favorite song on the album is “Just an Illusion” a song that follows pop structure but uses it to generate hooks that stay with you as you contemplate the illusions of life.
“Speechless” does not follow structure – it reaches far into a part of Kat’s vocal and emotional range I have not heard before, the part of her range that makes you close your eyes, listen and smile. Kat reverts to her trademark happiness-generating uncluttered guitar and pure voice with a smile behind it and twinkling eyes to wrap up with “Bad Times Better”, a perfect ending.
Ten shows us again why this unique American/Japanese/New Zealand California surfer girl- artist wins so many awards and attracts crowds in all three countries. Whether she is catching waves or singing, she is happy and she makes everyone around her happy, which is exactly what Ten does.