David Kitt

TrackAlbum
There Are WordsSmall Moments
Song From Hope St. (Brooklyn N.Y.)The Big Romance
You Know What I Want To KnowThe Big Romance
What I AskThe Big Romance
Strange Light In The EveningThe Big Romance
One Clear WayNot Fade Away
I Know The ReasonNot Fade Away
A Real FireThe Nightsaver
Don't Wake Me UpThe Nightsaver
There Will Always Be This LoveYous

 

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David Kitt playlist

 

 

 

Contributor: Andrew Shields

David Kitt first came to prominence as one a group of young Irish singer-songwriters who appeared on the music scene there from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s. Apart from Kitt, the most prominent of these were Damien Rice, Paddy Casey and – a relative latecomer – Fionn Regan. All four were united by having a mellow folk-influenced style, which owed a significant debt to their great 1960s/early 1970s predecessors like early Bob Dylan, Nick Drake and John Martyn. While they all aimed at a relaxed style, from the very beginning David Kitt appeared to achieve this in a seeming effortless way. Another distinctive feature of his style was his wide range of influences. These went all the way from Irish folk groups like Planxty (whose “layered approach” to their arrangements – to use his own words – he greatly admired), through the laid-back country flavoured rock of J.J. Cale, to the pioneering synth music of Kraftwerk and the electronic dance music of Orbital and Underworld.

There is also a strong ‘ambient’ and atmospheric feel about much of Kitt’s music. As with many of his other ‘low-fi’ contemporaries – who, like him, learned their craft and still make much of their music in home studios – his vocals often blend in with, rather than dominate, the instrumental parts on his recordings. As a result, his lyrics usually aim at evoking a mood rather than creating a linear narrative.

David Kitt photo

Born into a prominent Irish political family (his grandfather, father, uncle, and aunt all held seats in the Irish parliament, the Dáil), Kitt developed a keen interest in music at a very young age. Along with their political interests, his family also had a long standing interest in music (a clip of David performing with his father can be seen here). His own experiments in music making at home eventually inspired him to study for a master’s degree in music technology at Trinity College Dublin. While studying there, he also began to play small gigs around that city. These led to him rapidly developing a reputation as one of the most promising young songwriters in Ireland, a reputation which developed almost entirely through word of mouth. As a result of this growing enthusiasm for his work, Kitt began to attract the interest of a number of Irish and English record companies. Eventually, after a meeting with Geoff Travis of Rough Trade, Kitt signed with that label in early 2000. In consequence, his first album, Small Moments, appeared under their imprint in the same year. This was mainly made up of home recordings which Kitt had made over the previous few months.

Although the album was undoubtedly uneven, its best tracks showed that Kitt was a songwriter of a very high calibre indeed. My choice from Small Moments, the opening track, There Are Words, set the template for much of his later works. It set beautifully intricate, repetitive (in the best sense) and circular (as it were) guitar parts against keyboards, synths and gentle ‘beats’. In combination, these had a kind of hypnotic and atmospheric effect which was reinforced by his characteristically muted and almost mumbled vocals. While there were some other fine tracks on the record (including the Nick Drake-esque Sleep Comes Tomorrow and the fine acoustic ballad, Step Outside In The Morning Light which he re-recorded to greater effect on his second album, The Big Romance), it remained clear throughout that he was still in the process of finding his own voice.

In this respect his next record, The Big Romance, (2001), represented a marked advance on the previous one. The production was also far more polished and professional than on his debut. While there was a new slickness to his sound, this was achieved without losing the relaxed and mellow quality which was a key part of Kitt’s appeal. There was also a much greater self-confidence about his songwriting and it gave a clear indication that he had found his own distinctive musical direction. The songs on the record are so consistently excellent that it was very difficult to decide which ones to exclude from this list. In the end, however, my choice was based on selecting those tracks which gave a good representation of the qualities of the album as a whole.

My first selection, Song From Hope St. (Brooklyn N.Y.), is a gentle evocative ballad which is given some added bite by the inclusion of some unexpected dance beats. By contrast, You Know What I Want To Know is, perhaps, Kitt’s catchiest song with an insistent pop hook which saw it become a radio hit in Ireland. A live performance of the song by Kitt and his younger brother Robbie, filmed at the 2012 Gifted festival, can be seen here. What I Ask is rockier and harder-edged than many of Kitt’s other songs and features an excellent backing vocal from Nina Hynes. Like many of his other songs, it also has a kind of bruised romanticism which is distinctively his own.

Strange Light In The Evening, my last pick from The Big Romance, reminds me of some of John Martyn’s more atmospheric and sound-scapey (if there is such a word) pieces like Small Hours for example. It is also another reminder of David Kitt’s ability to write songs which manage to be both gentle and haunting at the same time. For its all-round excellence, The Big Romance remains, in my opinion, his finest record to date. It also reminds me of the time when we were back living in Ireland in 2009/10, when it was the most played record in our home (listened to at least once daily and at times more than that).

His next album, Square 1, was one of his most commercial successfully records (particularly in Ireland where it reached No.1 in the album charts). It was also a fine if rather a low key record, suffused (perhaps to too great an extent) by a warm romantic glow. He followed it with the sometimes uneven covers album, The Black And Red Notebook. Despite its occasional flaws, the CD was fascinating in terms of tracing Kitt’s influences. Unexpectedly, these included Thin Lizzy and Toots and the Maytals. He also paid tribute to another of his key early influence, J.J. Cale on the record, with a suitably laidback version of the latter’s classic song Magnolia.

Although both of those albums had their moments, neither were really up to the standard of his first two records. However, Not Fade Away, his fifth album first released in 2006, marked a significant return to form. As with most of his earlier work, Kitt played most of the instruments on the record himself (including lead, rhythm and bass guitar, banjo, organ, piano, synths and percussion) with occasional help from a group of trusted friends and fellow musicians, notably Karl Odlum on assorted instruments including guitar and synth. The album also marked a shift, at times, towards a much more dance-oriented approach (as in my first selection, One Clear Way and in the nod towards hip-hop on Grey Day). By contrast, my other choice from the record, I Know The Reason, is one of Kitt’s most effective rock songs and spotlights his skills as a fine electric guitar player.

Kitt’s next album, The Nightsaver (2009), is one of his very finest and carries on the dance and electronica leanings of its predecessor. My first pick, A Real Fire, has a beautifully layered arrangement and that kind of gentle funkiness David Kitt has made very much his own. His skill at creating striking musical soundscapes is strongly evident on Don’t Wake Me Up, which is also one of his finest love songs. Despite its sustained excellence, however, The Nightsaver failed to achieve the type of commercial success it deserved. This led Kitt to undergo a period of soul searching, which at one point led him to consider quitting the music business entirely. Instead, he eventually put his solo career on hold for a time and embarked on a number of other musical projects as a backing musician for other artists. These side projects included stints with the English indie band Tindersticks and playing as a member of David Gray’s touring band.

In the long term, David Kitt has credited this enforced sabbatical with reigniting his enthusiasm for music. Indeed, in more recent times, he has become almost prolific as a recording artist. On the one hand, this activity has involved his releasing dance oriented music under the name of his new alter ego, New Jackson (some of this music can be heard here). On the other hand, he also released his first new album under his own name – the excellent Yous – on the Irish label, All City Records, last year. In general, the CD represented a welcome return to the gentle folk-influenced style of his very earliest records. The addition of the fine violinist Margie Jean Lewis to his backing band added a new and welcome element. Her vocal style also fitted in very well with Kitt’s own, as can be seen in my choice from the album, There Will Always Be This Love. This is another of those classic gentle love songs which this fine artist seems to be able to turn out at will. Yous was also a welcome reminder that, at his best, David Kitt is both a very distinctive stylist and one of the very finest songwriters to come out of Ireland in recent times.

 

Yous, the long-awaited latest release from enigmatic David Kitt is a sublime, introspective, soother of a solo album, reaffirming him as one of Ireland’s best singer/songwriters.” Louder Than War (March 2018)

 

 

David Kitt official website

David Kitt bandcamp

David Kitt biography (iTunes)

Andrew Shields is a freelance historian, who grew up in the West of Ireland and currently lives in Sydney, Australia. Along with an interest in history, politics and literature, his other principal occupations are listening to and reading about the music of Bob Dylan and, in more recent years, immersing himself in the often brilliant and unduly neglected music of Phil Ochs ….

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Nick Drake, Kraftwerk, John Martyn, Orbital, Planxty, Thin Lizzy, Tindersticks

TopperPost #801

2 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Jul 11, 2019

    Very much enjoyed the clever use of drum loops, as well as the superb musicianship and composition skills he brings to the table. Thanks Andrew.

  2. Andrew Shields
    Jul 15, 2019

    Thanks for comment David. And, yes, Kitt stands out as someone who has both the strengths of a classic singer-songwriter with a willingness to experiment. He should be much better known than he is.

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