You can sample and buy Midwestern Skyline here
Until recently Kari Arnett was based in Madison. Currently located in the Twin Cities, relocating is not the only change she’s been through. Arnett got married and now goes by Kari Schmidt. It’s unclear if she’ll continue to use Kari Arnett as a stage name but whatever name she goes by, you may want to keep an eye out for her. And you definitely should check out this album.
Fans of Jason Isbell, Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris – and probably a host of others including Neko Case and Jenny Lewis – will find lots to like on Midwestern Skyline. Think an Americana version of Mazzy Star.
Arnett’s music is rooted in Loretta Lynn country but there’s much more to it than that. The emotional depth of her storytelling is matched by the elegance of the melodies and the power of her voice, a sound full of mournfulness and life experience that will speak to your soul. Arnett purportedly didn’t pick up a guitar until her twenties but the songs here speak of an innate ability to communicate, a trait that takes most artists much longer to develop.
Midwestern Skyline was produced by Chris Mittlesteadt, an ambitious guitarist, engineer, producer and entrepreneur operating in Reedsburg. The arrangements are exquisite, enhancing an already charged atmosphere. Instrumentation is sparse but highly effective. Arnett’s band is the same lineup that works with Shawndell Marks: keyboardist Paul Issacs, bassist Joe McCloskey and drummer Al Buttner (read more about them here). Mittlesteadt adds harmony vocals and guitar but it’s his pedal steel and fiddle that provide extra breath to Arnett’s songs. His electric slide guitar, particularly the delay Mittlesteadt employs, is especially effective on “When We Were Young,” a song bursting with longing and nostalgia. Guitar and fiddle are the only instrumentation on the gorgeous “Lake Michigan,” a song of parting with a powerful vocal performance which also benefits from Mittlesteadt’s backing vocals. The pedal steel features prominently on “Concrete and Honey,” where he also contributes a tasty electric guitar solo.
“Heavy Heart” kicks the album off, setting the tone. This one is a band arrangement with keys and electric guitars providing a ghostly backdrop. A song of redemption and a memorable chorus (with backup vocals by Shawndell Marks) make this a highlight. American Songwriter recently featured this on their site as a Daily Discovery and that is some high praise. Isaac’s piano graces “Love Someone,” another winner with picked violin by Mittelsteadt, another exquisite touch. “Casualties” is as close to rock as the album gets, a song that wouldn’t be too far out of place for Tom Petty to pick up.
Midwestern Skyline is an enormously satisfying album that bears frequent, repeated listenings. Arnett’s authenticity is rare. She may be in St. Paul now, but let’s hope she makes frequent forays back to the Madison area.