Karlie Bruce is a name you should start to hear more often, if any music gods exist. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, she’s been based in Brooklyn for the past several years, and honing her vocal chops in the disco party band Escort. This past Thursday, she held a special performance to celebrate the release of her first solo album, which sounds nothing like that. Paperback Lover is more sultry folk and smoky blues with jazz flourishes, and it’s quite possibly one of the best well-crafted albums of the year. The show was held at the Brooklyn arts and cultural space La Sala, and the whole thing was a warm, intimate affair, on par with a classy gallery opening. On the three walls surrounding the band were giant projection screens, showing black and white footage of old noir films, and there were benches with cushions for attendees to quietly sit and observe.
Karlie had her band with her, made up of intensely talented musicians in their own right. Joining her was drummer Brian Chase from Yeah Yeah Yeahs, bassist Hagar Ben-Ari from Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, and guitarist Chris Parrello of Things I Wonder. She also had a guest cellist, who looked and played like a wild genius, and what he added to the songs was brilliant.
They began with the title track, “Paperback Lover.” All the elements of the song were impeccably together and understated, from the gently rolling drums to the undulating bass, to Karlie’s soft acoustic along with Chris’ concise electric strums. What stood out from then till the end was Karlie’s voice – dusty, full of soul, and effortlessly flowing out of her. She had a penchant for ending phrases by softly fading herself out, showing flawless breath control. It was like her voice was a constant rolling wave, she just had to open her mouth and control the volume. Through this and every song after, everyone in the room watched with captured attention, erupting into strong adulation after every tune. Karlie seemed genuinely surprised and thankful, like she never expected this sort of turnout or response to her music, but it was indeed deserved.
The group played through the songs on the album, as well as a new song reserved for the next release, called “June.” They ended on “Jonathan,” a down tempo acoustic love song, with Chris on acoustic guitar and Karlie taking the microphone off the stand to move freely. She explained that the title came as the last detail, and was decided upon as an homage to recording engineer Jonathan Jacobi, to whom she was grateful to for having worked on her record. Karlie had a list of several others to thank as well, which she read from like an acceptance speech. In a way, it did feel like she had just won an award. We were all celebrating the release of her first solo album, and the culmination of everything her and her collaborators had been working toward for some time. This performance showed that it was already a success.