Essential New Music: Sharron Kraus’ “KIN”

When the stages went quiet, no one artist was better equipped to handle the pandemic than Sharron Kraus. Her songwriting is steeped in the English folk tradition, which is full of tunes about mortality and disaster. KIN deals with both personal and societal aspects of living through a time of plague, a collection of songs that zoom in on the particulars of solitude, loss and connection, then pull back to ponder on what it takes to persevere.

With KIN, Kraus wields a set of musical tools ideally suited to the job. As on Joy’s Reflection Is Sorrow (her pre-COVID 2018 album), the production mixes methodologies in ways that make the music sound simultaneously past-conscious and present-aware. The rustic piping of Kraus’ recorders broaden the temporal span of eras implied by spare, polished arrangements. Squeezable synth tones alternate with understated, fingerpicked guitars, both propelled by a mix of crisply programmed and gently swinging acoustic rhythms. Kraus’ voice is supple and unerring, gliding with unfussy, melodic grace over the instrumental accompaniment, and her tradition-conscious phrasing is a persuasive vehicle for lyrics that fuse antiquity and modernity.

The lyrics for “Tell Me, Death” may have been written by Kraus and Pat Gubler (a.k.a. PG Six), but they read like could’ve been penned any time since folks started noticing that their loved ones die. The singer demands answers, seeking meaning. Death pitilessly declares that mortality simply is what it is, leaving it to the grief-stricken narrator to realize that it’s on her to get over loss if she can. “More Of Your Thoughts,” on the other hand, finds comfort in the carnal fusion of bodies and minds, while Neal Heppleston’s acoustic bass tickles memories of Peggy Lee’s “Fever.” Closer “A Kind Kind (Of Human)” ends the album with a hard sell for redemption, holding hope that maybe, if humans can recognize each other as kin, they can transcend their impulses toward awfulness.

The commingling of distant and recent pasts in Kraus’ music places the trials of our time within a broader context of ongoing human catastrophe. But the lucid specificity of her observations makes her songs feel like the sort of wise company that’ll help you see it through.

—Bill Meyer