January 17, 2013
Fall Into Me
By now, Katie Armiger’s country music career comprises six years, four studio albums, and still zero bona fide radio hits. Her label Cold River Records has nonetheless stuck with her since 2007, with her previous outing, 2010’s Confessions of a Nice Girl, producing her first chart singles in the #55 “Kiss Me Now” and the #42 “Best Song Ever.” Her new album Fall Into Me has yet to reverse her fortunes at radio – Lead single “Better In a Black Dress” topped out at #42 on Billboard Country Airplay – but it no doubt contains more than enough tasteful, likeable pop-country material to keep current fans interested.
At its best, Fall Into Me combines effective melodies with clever lyrical turns of phrase and colorful vocal readings. By such rights, “Man I Thought You Were” is arguably the album’s finest track, casting Armiger as a jilted young woman who’s had her heart broken by a man who didn’t fulfill expectations. She turns the song’s concept on its head in the second verse, musing that she wishes she could hate the woman she lost her love to, but can’t because she knows that the same outcome awaits her successor. The song’s story is enhanced by a compelling melody, and a performance that exudes vulnerability. A similar interplay of elements is heard on “Merry Go Round,” in which a frantic melody and performance pulse in a way that mirrors the tumult of the relationship chronicled by the lyric.
The album is produced by Chad Carlson, who also produced Confessions of a Nice Girl. Though the musical stylings often skew heavily toward the pop side of the country-pop spectrum, the album largely steers clear of the over-audacious pop arrangements that at times pervaded Confessions (with the noisy “So Long” being the glaring exception). The project boasts several standout instrumental hooks and clever production touches, as well as some increased stylistic variety. A brisk tempo and hand-clap section underscores the sense of urgency in album opener “He’s Gonna Change,” in which Armiger warns a woman not to hang her hopes on a man who will never grow to fully appreciate and respect her. A prominent bazouki and harmonica imbue a swampy feel to the single woman anthem “Better In a Black Dress.” Though “Merry Go Round” has the misfortune of sharing a title with one of the best songs currently on country radio, it boasts a catchy guitar hook anchoring a crisp, lightly infectious pop-country arrangement.
While Armiger has often shown herself to be a gifted vocalist worthy of rubbing shoulders with Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood on country radio, Fall Into Me finds the 21-year-old continuing to make artistic strides as a songwriter. The themes of empowerment and belief in self recur throughout the album, evident in the cautious optimism of “Okay Alone,” and in the straight-up swagger of “Better In a Black Dress.” Unfortunately, though the album serves up a generous fourteen songs, it doesn’t quite fill them out with fourteen songs’ worth of content. Armiger appears as a co-writer on every track, but some benefit might have been derived by interspersing her own cuts with some quality outside material. Though the figurative “A” side is fairly solid, the album loses steam around the tenth track, and starts serving up some filler. The rather bland love song “Baby You’re Everything” hardly warrants explanation, while the forced thematic concept of “Stealing Hearts” comes off as something like the poor woman’s “Hell On Heels.” There are also moments when she creates a solid foundation for a great song, but doesn’t quite tie it together with an effective hook. A biting line such as “Look down on me and criticize/ It’s easy to do from up on high” seems to call for a greater payoff than “I’m free, free/ Like a raging wildfire through the trees,” and a refrain of “I’ll find a way to be okay alone” doesn’t quite match the potency of Armiger’s nuanced, falsetto-enhanced delivery.
Even though Katie Armiger has three albums already behind her, one doesn’t generally become a fully realized country artist by age 21. At this point, she sounds like she’s flexing her creative muscles and having fun doing so. Fall Into Me continues to hint at Armiger’s lofty potential as a creative force – at times wanting for consistency, but not for lack of heart. Furthermore, it finds Armiger continuing to develop her own point of view as a songwriter, acting as a voice for strong, independent young women, which may very well blossom further with future releases. Without a doubt, there is much that Fall Into Me gets right, even if it does feel like a fourteen track album that should have been a ten track album.
Top Tracks: “Man I Thought You Were,” “Better In a Black Dress,” “Merry Go Round”