Reviews Zone

Kat Eaton: When You’re Not Around EP (Reason & Rhyme Records) Out now



4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)



I don’t do hype. I am not here to do a publicist’s job. I don’t “sell” artists or their wares. I don’t give away free adverts. What I do is write about music and give my opinion based on almost 40 years of doing so.

Along the way, I have discovered plenty of new bands and artists and tipped them for bigger things. Some have “made it”, some are household names now, even globally. Some have disappeared without trace.

But sometimes, I hear a voice that prompts the urge to climb the nearest tall building, forget my fear of heights – and clambering on to the roof, yell through a megaphone: “You guys down below. You just gotta hear this.” Which is very much the case here. Introducing Ms. Kat Eaton. Born in Cardiff and raised in Sheffield, now residing in London since the move three years ago with her husband Nick, a very talented guitarist, musical director, producer and songwriter.

Kat has a voice to soak in, like a soothing warm bath after a day’s hard graft. She’s as soulful as they come and can REALLY sing.  She is Welsh, of course. Even the sheep there can sing! Hers is a pure voice and tone. She also has sublime control. Nothing over-cooked, as is the way these days with much of the young female singers brought up on Maria, Whitney and Beyonce; cramming as many notes in to a verse and chorus as they can, and killing the grace and beauty of a song by showboating the vocal acrobatics.

Not Kat. No. When most other singers are reaching for the top notes far too often, Kat has a unique ability to exploit her smoky and soulful lower register, and evoke emotion, passion and a natural, unforced sultriness. I suspect she has been influenced by Aretha and maybe even gospel singers such as Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, based on her phrasing. I also would bet she’s got a fair few jazz and big band albums in her collection, with the likes of Ella F. and Sarah V. popping up.

She lets the song breathe, always. Her diction is perfect. As co-writer of the material, the lyrics are important to her and we hear every word. The songs really stand up and are all ripe for some big name to cover and make Kat and Nick some serious spondoolics. Very commercial, but uber-credible too.

Think Norah Jones. A tiny weenie smattering of Shania Twain’s timbre. Quite a bit of Dido’s tone and purity. The ballsiness and grit of Imelda May. Maybe the retro flavours of Paloma Faith, and she also brings to mind a current fave of mine, brilliant British jazz singer Polly Gibbons. Then, you will still be only a fraction of the way to getting a handle on what this young woman is capable of with those glorious pipes.

Note: Kat Eaton sounds most like; Kat Eaton. Her voice is made for radio and for recording. The best bet, and ignoring the fact that earlier I advised I do not “sell” artists or their wares and do not give away free advertisements – I am a journalist and music writer – grab hold of a copy of her new EP, “When You’re Not Around” and hear for yourself if I am right or wrong? Correct or incorrect? Factually accurate or talking shite? Your call.

I first came across Kat’s voice a few years ago on an album that an old friend in Sheffield put in my hands. He told me, “You’ll like this.” He was bang on. I did. That was an album Kat and her hubbie Nick made, in a previous life and in a different style to what she does today. It was not perfect but the potential of the voice leaped out.

Wind forward a few years again, and Kat approached me to give her latest single release an ear-holing. I liked what I heard, but suggested she focus on nailing a niche sound for herself. To focus on the soul side of what I could hear she was capable of. My overview of what she did back then, was as follows:  “Kat Eaton is the best kept secret on the UK music scene, but not for much longer. One to watch for sure.” I have not changed my mind.

Since then , she has worked on this latest EP release, and yes, yes, yes; that soul aspect is there for all to hear. The five tracks open with the title cut. A gorgeous song and a gorgeous vocal. BBC Radio 2 thinks so too and has given it airplay. Gaby Roslin said Kate has a voice like “sexy toffee”. Not come across that tag before, but I am sure it is a compliment!

Such a relaxed vocal on a blue-eyed soul song that would be a snug fit for the likes of Paul Carrack.  Penned by Kat Eaton and Nick Atkinson. A song about long distance love – something Kat knows a lot about after staying with her other half for four years, while they were both at separate Universities.  They set out to write something timeless, that didn’t follow the usual verse chorus, verse chorus, mid- eight, chorus, out structure, taking inspiration from Ray Charles and Sam Cooke.

The lyrics are conversational and direct. Based on the premise that when you’re seeing someone in a different city, you can’t afford to get anything you say lost in translation, because that’s when you get your wires crossed and the relationship starts unravelling. So, this song is simply telling it like it is: “It’s not the same when you’re not around”. Nick delivers some soul-soaked guitar chops on a beautifully restrained solo, which puts me in mind of the great Eric Gale and Cornell Dupree, when they were in the band Stuff back in the 1970s.

The great backstory to the recording of this track, is worth reading. Kat recorded a ‘guide vocal’ (in the US they call it a scratch vocal)  at home in her bedroom, for the players to record the music track to. These temporary vocal tracks then get scrapped when the singer records the real vocal on top of the music track, or live with the band in the studio. Kat re-did the lead vocal in the studio, but she felt it never quite had the same sincerity as the guide vocal. So, they decided to use the guide vocal in the final mix! So what you hear now on the EP, was recorded on a computer in Kat’s boudoir, with the only microphone she had to hand; an overhead drum mic! A vocal that was supposed to be discarded.

The second track, “Robbing You Blind”, sits on a funky, choppy guitar riff and is punctuated with fierce and punchy horn stabs. The backing vocals add huge value. Great lead vocal. The song is about a few different people Kat knows who are/were in manipulative relationships. But her advice would always fall on deaf ears, and in some cases, it got to the stage where their partner wouldn’t allow them to speak to Kat anymore. Leaving Kat feeling “heartbroken” and “helpless”. So, another way of trying to get through to her friends was by writing about it. The song written with Nick Atkinson.

The current single, “The Joker”,  has a cracking hook and is a very cleverly structured song. Written by Kat Eaton, Nick Atkinson and Jon Moody, it’s got that sassy Sophie Ellis Bextor vibe about it, and if there’s any justice, should get lots of spins and prompt lots of EP sales. A song about “all the many different sharks that I’ve met in the industry, promising the world but giving you nothing”.

But specifically, it is about one guy in particular (who shall remain nameless!) who led Kat down the garden path and just before she signed the contract, realised he was full of faeces (she used a different word to me!) hence the hook, “I dodged a bullet.” Kat later found out that one of her singer songwriter friends had been through the same experience with the very same man! (And she’s also written a song about him!) Fabulous horn arrangement by trombonist Trevor Mires.

The first of two acoustic tracks, “Put Yourself In My Arms” is a bluesy, piano lead mid-tempo affair. It tackles the topic of not beating around the bush, instead; risking it all. A stripped-down trio format on this one, of Kat, Nick on guitar and the exceptional piano skills of Joe Glossop. The three played together for the first time at the Riverside pub in Sheffield when they were 16, when both Joe and Nick had longer hair than Kat and wore flares! Many moons later, Kat credits these two chaps as the best piano and guitar player she has worked with – but with slightly less hair! (£50 in a brown envelope and I can edit this last sentence out before Nick and Joe read it, Kat!!!)

The acoustic closer, which is again just Kat, Nick and Joe, “I Can’t Go Back” is a slow, sweet soul ballad and there’s absolutely no hiding place for the exposed lead vocal. Which is good news, as this is a real showstopper; shivers down the spine time. O.V. Wright, James Carr and the likes of Otis Redding would be all over this song. Kat sizzles. A young Elkie Brooks in her Vinegar Joe days? Joe’s gospel meets R&B piano licks are wonderful, and both he and Nick have that rare skill of knowing how to stay out of the way of the main vocal, but use brush strokes to create vivid colours at the same time.

The lyric sums up Kat’s emotion about living in London. After the move from Sheffield three years ago, and although she now loves lives living there, it has not been plain sailing. This song is about struggling with something you know will be good for you in the end. “I know that it’s worth persevering with the high rent and the ridiculously priced dish water pints they call ale, because this is exactly where I need to be right now”. They played this song perfectly the very first time, but someone forgot to press record! The EP version is the second take. Kat says: “It’s not perfect, but it’s got a lot of heart, and people have told me they really connect with it. That’s all that matters…” The last two cuts written by Eaton and Atkinson.

An ace team of players assembled for this record, and there’s oodles of chemistry; sounding more like a regular unit than a bunch of session guys. Kat sings lead vocals, and is joined by Natalie Duncan on backing vocals. Nick Atkinson: guitars, Joe Glossop: piano & organ, Diego Rodriguez: bass, Sebastian Hankins: drums. A fabulous horn section of Trevor Mires on trombone, Ryan Quigley on trumpet and Andy Ross on saxophone. Unfussy, solid production values across the five tracks. The first three tracks produced by Neros aka Soren Andersen and recorded in February 2016 in Richmond, Surrey. The final two cuts, produced by Anthony Leung in March 2017 in Crouch End, London.

Kat launched her solo career in September 2013 with the single “Alien”. She set out on her debut tour across the UK, with BBC Introducing championing “Alien”, naming it one of the top singles of 2013. Kat was then asked to attend the exclusive BBC Introducing Masterclass event, where she met with industry and radio. Quickly attracting the attention of BBC London, Kat was asked to perform a live session and interview at BBC HQ.

She released the “Live At The Foundry” EP in June 2014 on Ont’ Sofa Records, who have worked with the likes of Ed Sheeran. At the end of 2014, Kat went back into the studio with production team ‘Reel To Reel’. Later she had the opportunity to work with heavily in demand producer Neros. Kat’s single “Giving It Up” was produced by both ‘Reel To Reel’ and Neros. The single was debuted by Sir Terry Wogan on BBC Radio 2, who hailed her as an exciting new talent, and it made the BBC Radio London Playlist alongside John Newman, James Bay and Jack Savoretti.

The recent launch gig for the “When You’re Not Around” EP, in London’s Islington, completely sold out. She’s getting decent airplay around the UK, and has some live shows scheduled, including opening for pal Matt Cardle, who Kat has supported before. Matt tips Kat and this new EP on Twitter, and says: “”Kat, your voice is a gift! Just WOW!”. Couldn’t have put it better myself.


By Simon Redley



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