(2014 Over the Well)
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Most of us can look back at our teenage years and remember trying to make sense of the world, recalling attempts to figure out just who we were and what we wanted to do with our lives. For some people, it’s just not like that.
Corinne McKnight released Take My Hand in 2014. This is not her first album. That would be 2012’s Surprised Me. She’s also known as the original vocalist for Modern Mod (a band that’s gotten a fair amount of coverage in Local Sounds Magazine and who also received a really nice two-page write-up in Isthmus, the most in-depth local music feature the newspaper has done in recent memory). Corrine McKnight is a senior in high school.
McKnight was trained on piano, guitar and voice, sings in an advanced choir, and has spent time in Nashville working with established industry songwriters and producers. Recently, she was accepted to the Songwriting Department in the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business at Belmont University in Nashville. It seems likely that McKnight will join the small army of recent Madison transplants to Nashville but it is unlikely that this is the last you’ll hear of her.
McKnight writes songs about human relationships and love with no small measure of heartbreak, teenage drama and lessons learned. At such tender years it is no ordinary accomplishment to relate to these intense life events on such an emotional level and to be able to channel these experiences into music, specifically self-penned songs. It brings to mind another popular artist of a similar bent…what’s-her-name?…oh yeah, Taylor Swift.
While McKnight may not have rubbed shoulders (yet) with music industry mentors at the level Swift has, one lesson she has learned is to surround herself with high-caliber talent. McKnight is managed by Slothtrop Records owner and local music mogul Eric Hester. Hester assembled his multi-talented colleagues – some of the best players in the city – to back McKnight. Hester plays keyboards, guitar and mandolin (in addition to co-producing with McKnight). Michael Brenneis plays drums and percussion and Dan Kennedy plays bass and electric guitars.
Hester co-wrote the album’s opener, “It All Starts with Goodbye,” a slick pop song that would slide into any teenage playlist alongside other hits you hear in shopping malls all across America. It’s quick to see that the girl means business. A faint hint of auto-tune on the vocals seems unnecessary but otherwise this is quite a well-crafted composition.
“Don’t Call it Love” was written by the entire group and exposing McKnight’s sassier side, the band knowing how to play just enough, allowing the lead vocal to carry the tune which is the closest thing to rock on the album.
The album’s other seven songs were written solely by McKnight. These selections get more personal and driven largely by McKnight’s acoustic guitar with the supporting cast adding tasteful accompaniment. “Loves Me Not,” is an exception. This one is lush with keyboards and exquisitely catchy melody lines. Unless my ears deceive me, which they rarely do, I’d peg this mid-tempo number a hit with ease. Here McKnight sounds exceedingly wise beyond her years, her vocal pouring out with emotion and an honest delivery. The arrangement is exceptional, Kennedy’s guitars perfectly placed.
“Wrong” is another magnificently arranged tune that really allows McKnight to shine. The song rolls along beautifully thanks to Brenneis’ terrific drumming style and the arpeggiated guitars. Another irresistible melody delivered with panache by McKnight.
“Want You Now” is another great track with a memorable, scratchy guitar line and a rhythm track from Brenneis that is downright lovable. All in support to multi-layered vocals from McKnight that ice the cake.
Hester’s mandolin graces “That You’d Do” and the album’s closing track, “My Best Mistake,” an acoustic instrument with clever lyrics that encapsulate this point in time for McKnight.
There may come a time – down the road – when McKnight might look back and wince a little at these teen ambitions but there is no chance of lamenting the quality of Take My Hand. While melodic pop may not be everyone’s cup of tea, this is an impressive album from an ambitious and talented young artist, one we may be speaking of in the future as being – proudly – from Madison.