NICKELL'S BAG: Maturity of Kira Means' debut CD belies singer's age
In recent months, I've had fun playing a little game with coworkers and friends. I'll call up Kira Means' Myspace page and play one of her original songs. Partway through, as her sunny and expressive voice soars along, I'll casually mention that Means is a 15-year-old from Missoula who just started writing songs about 18 months ago.
Most people think I'm kidding.
But as Means' debut CD attests, she's no joke. Featuring eight originals plus a pair of covers - Feist's "The Park" and Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" - the album reveals not just the talents of a teen prodigy, but a mature and confident voice with more than a few pearls of precocious wisdom to share with the rest of us.
"The moon is a snowball refusing to fall / The fields are a patchwork quilt / The stars are all angels coming down / The flowers here never wilt," she sings on "Beauty," one of several contemplative beauties that populate the record, which Means will release Friday (tonight) in a 6:30 performance at Break Espresso.
Recorded at Club Shmed Studio in Missoula, the album documents Means' very first forays in songwriting. In fact, the album's title track, "Hello," was the first song she ever wrote, inspired by the story of Dong Yun Yoon, the San Diego man who lost his wife, children and mother-in-law when an F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet crashed into his house in late 2008. Despite the grim subject matter, the song is imbued with a sense of grace and poetry, not to mention a gorgeously simple melody, that has made it Means' signature tune - the one she sang at last December's Missoula Idol competition, and won.
"I just want to hold in my hands and just sing to you, just sing to you," she lilts in the song's chorus. "Every day I hear your tears on my roof and I miss you, oh I miss you."
Aside from a smattering of backing keyboards provided by producer Shmed Maynes, the spotlight here is squarely on Means' voice and guitar (or, on some tracks, her piano). The stripped-down approach mostly befits Means' voice and songwriting style, though a few tracks long for other ornamentation during instrumental breaks and introductions.
But that's small criticism for such an impressive monument to the emerging talents of this Missoula songwriter. It'd take a hard heart indeed not to melt when Means soars into the stratosphere at the climax of Billie Holiday's classic: "Mama may have, and papa may have / But God bless the child that's got his own." Means most certainly has her own; that she's willing to share is a blessing for us all.