Kyler England: Live Wire Music Review

United States of AmericaBy Jase Luttrell
United States of AmericaSalt Lake City, Utah, United States of America
Posted: 10 July 2006

Kyler EnglandLive Wire is the fourth album from Kyler England, a native North Carolinian, now based out of Los Angeles, California. From her humble beginnings with How Many Angels? and If The World Would Just End (both of which focus on the loss of her mother to breast cancer), to her acclaimed A Flower Grows In Stone, Kyler's release of a live album proves she is the real deal. This artist delivers emotion and strength through her clear and powerful vocals and her abilities playing the rhythm guitar.

Technically speaking, Live Wire is not a live album, but is a collection of live recordings and demos, described as "raw and real" by Kyler in a short message in the album liner notes. The live recordings all come from a series of shows Kyler played in May and June of 2005, the only exception being "Higher Ground", recorded in December of 2004. Kyler wrote every song and plays the guitar on all but two of the songs ("Lay It On Me" and "Higher Ground"), proving that she has some considerable talent as a rhythmic guitarist and songwriter. Most notably, the album features Kyler's stunning, powerful, and clear vocals. With a voice comparable to Tara MacLean and Paula Cole, Kyler is sure to please fans of the singer-songwriter archetype.

The album begins with "All I've Got", a song that has an unexpected melodic structure in the tenor ranges of the acoustic guitar. From the opening of this album to the final eponymous track, Kyler's vocals are impressive and strong, and prove there is nothing manufactured about her singing style or her vocal ability. Once again, she is the real deal. "All I've Got" opens on a strong note, and is a song about the fears of potentially losing a meaningful relationship with a person. The pensive song features intelligent lyrics, such as "I'm not holding my breath but somehow I can't breathe."

The second track, "What You're Looking For", is a driving song featuring electric guitar work by Aaron Kaplan, which provides the song with interesting effects, and pushes the song's tempo. However, his backing vocals could be louder on the recording. This is the second and final recording from Kyler's show at the Hotel Café in Hollywood, California on 5 May 2005.

"Lay It On Me" is the first studio-recorded acoustic demo on Live Wire. It is an imploringly pleading song with an excellent sense of melody in the chorus: "Honesty is all I need, just lay it on me." Though this is a long song (over five minutes), it is still very strong and grabs the listener's attention. It follows the theme of relationships and love (both requited and unrequited) found throughout the album. Because this is a studio recording, the sound quality is much better than the live recordings. However, it maintains the raw, unpolished sound found on the live recordings because it is a simple demo recording. Only the sound quality and the fade-out ending reveal this song as a studio recording.

"Carrie" takes the listener back to the live recordings from the Hotel Café in Hollywood, but on a different night, and includes piano accompaniment by Sally Jaye. The bridge of this song is very strong and powerful, and is the best part of the song. Unfortunately, though the chorus is repeated several times, it is largely forgettable, though the song is received well by the loudly applauding audience. This song is also the only time the listener hears Kyler speak, as she utters a meek "thanks" at the end of the song.

The best sound quality of any of the live recordings is found on "If You Want Me To", which was also recorded at the Hotel Café. Kyler's voice is strong and rises above the distorted electric guitar played, once again, by Aaron Kaplan. Unlike "What You're Looking For", Kaplan's backing vocals are strong and complement Kyler's vocals in the choruses in an amazing way. There is a strong sense of harmony in this vocal union.

Unfortunately, the song with the best sound quality is followed by the song with the worst quality. "Higher Ground" is muffled by a considerable amount of white noise; the piano sounds metallic, and Kyler's vocals sound distant and needlessly airy, though they are still impressive. This is unfortunate because "Higher Ground" is the only song on Live Wire that comes from a previous album (A Flower Grows In Stone), and this song is very memorable and powerful on that album. Despite the poor sound quality, the listener can discern that the background vocals by Marika Hughes and Alan Lin create an impressive sound when the harmonies surround Kyler's melody. Though the recording quality is poor, the actual live performance must have been impressive, because this song receives the warmest and loudest applause from the audience.

"I'm Not Like You" is another studio recording but it is also the most uptempo song on the album and features subtle alto background vocals by Kyler. The lyrics and vocals are forceful and powerful but the strength of the song is lost as it concludes with a fade out. In order to complete and reinforce the strength of the song, I feel a more appropriate ending is in order than the passive fade-out ending.

The eighth track, "Blue Ridge", is the only live recording that features only Kyler and her acoustic guitar. The chorus is repetitive, and therefore memorable, but the rest of the song is mostly forgettable. Unfortunately, it is completed by a lukewarm applause from the San Diego crowd at Lestat's Coffee Shop.

"Just Under The Skin" is another studio recording featuring only Kyler and her guitar. This is an excellent song and shows her ability as a lyricist. "I wanted to warn you: you can't start all over again, 'cause where you're going is never far away from everywhere that you have been" is one example of a string of lyrics that speak to a large audience and exemplify her songwriting skills.

The album concludes with the song "Live Wire", which has some interesting lyrics of its own: "I'd rather feel danger than feel nothing at all." The song also features creative diminutive chord constructions, and is the only song on the record in which Kyler employs the use of a fingerpicking style. The use of fingerpicking alone makes this song stand out, and breaks the monotony of constant guitar strumming. However, in the last half of the song, Kyler resorts to her standard rhythmic strumming. Because this song is the last song, the monotony of the rhythmic guitar is already established and, to break the monotony, "Live Wire" would have been better placed in the middle of the album in order for it to stand out from the rest of the songs and provide a much-needed contrast between them.

Studio versions of "If You Want Me To", "What You're Looking For", and "Lay It On Me" are available on Kyler's MySpace website and on her home page, and are definitely worth a listen. The acoustic versions and the studio versions sound as if they are very different songs, and it is difficult to decide which versions I prefer. The studio recording of "If You Want Me To" features a beautiful piano arrangement and strong drumming, and this version captures the essence of the song more than the live recording. The studio-album version of these songs is scheduled for release sometime in 2006, and is packaged under the title The Green Room Sessions.

The liner notes and CD packaging of Live Wire are not impressive at all. The CD case is a simple cardboard sleeve, with a sticker that covers the front, spine, and back of the sleeve. There is one picture of Kyler on the front, while the back cover is the track listing and recording information, in addition to the copyrights and a UPC barcode. There is nothing more. Unfortunately, the album is available only through Kyler's web site, and costs US$11.98 [?]. However, the checkout process through the site is quick and painless, and I received the CD three to five days after ordering it, but delivery would certainly take longer for international orders. Without a doubt, this CD is worth the wait. For those who are hesitant to purchase the music, you can view a short video on Kyler's web site, which is a home recording of "All I've Got" and "No More Sad Songs" (from The Green Room Sessions), which prove Kyler sings well, is adept at the rhythm guitar, and has a strong stage presence. Opinion
Rating: 8/10
Key Facts (Review Copy)
Artist: Kyler England
Title: Live Wire (Audio CD)
Label: Gypsy Rock Records
Release Date: 2005 (US)
Genre: Acoustic Rock

Track Listing:
1. All I've Got ... 03:38
2. What You're Looking For ... 03:47
3. Lay It On Me ... 05:07
4. Carrie ... 03:58
5. If You Want Me To ... 03:17
6. Higher Ground ... 04:04
7. I'm Not Like You ... 03:00
8. Blue Ridge ... 03:58
9. Just Under The Skin ... 03:41
10. Live Wire ... 03:44
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