IT'S rock 'n’ roll doctrine that great songwriting comes from great pain. Soul singer, singer-songwriter, and keyboardist Kira Small gets it.
A breakup fueled her latest album, 3 A.M., an outpouring devastation, loneliness, and, then, resolution. It’s Lemonade’s timeline of emotional processing with less baseball bats and more contemplative late-night solo drives down the open highway. Exploring the magic of the witching hour, when you’re jerked awake in either panic, fear, or revelation, the album possesses a certain lyrical immediacy and swoony vibe that does its moniker right.
With a voice like whiskey spilled on a plush velvet sofa, Small opens up her world and lets listeners in to experience the confusion and hurt through her eyes. It’s highly relatable: simple objects trigger memories in the wake of Small’s solitude, from a billboard advertisement to a hotel pen, reminders of the little things that can make us so undone. At its core, Small has made a blues-inspired soul record, and many a chorus reminds us of this in timeless language. There are even nods to classic soul throughout 3 A.M., from a Sam Cooke wink in the opener with line “you bring it all home to me” to the swing of certain builds.
3 A.M. begins with the leaving, with the hurt and confusion of the first moments of a breakup. Sadness and frustration builds as memories flood in and questions rise (“All I heard were suitcase wheels on the floor/is that what love sounds like when it dies?” “How can you be gone/and still surround me?”).
We see Small, ash dangling from her cigarette, swilling the last sips of whiskey that cling to melting ice cubes. We witness her spiral into self-blame and obsession (“The hunger in your kiss – I can’t stop remembering/the heat of your skin – I can’t stop remembering/the look only a lover knows – I can’t stop remembering/I can’t stop remembering, I can’t stop remembering/I’d give anything to stop remembering/but I can’t forget a thing...at 3 A.M.”). Here she is, vulnerable, bare, honest. By allowing listeners to drop in and see her in this state, Small lets us truly feel her triumphant emergence from the pain, which begins to peer through on “Firestarter” (“I put my heart in an arsonist’s hands/but I won’t burn again...ashes, ashes, I won’t fall down”).
Second-to-last track “Learn to Forgive” shows the protagonist doing just that. By the closer, “Gift That Keeps On Giving,” it’s out of the woods and on to a new life.
“I found my courage, found my pride,” Small sings over woozy organ and snappy guitar licks. “With my feet on solid ground, I see the blessings that abound.”
“The message of the album is that I learned not to harden myself,” Small disclosed in promotion of 3 A.M. “I could have shut down and said ‘screw it, I’m done,’ but this wasn’t love’s fault. It strengthened me, I began to genuinely trust myself, and for the first time in my life I got angry and realized I deserved better.”
Inspired by the great crooners like Aretha Franklin, Adele, Bonnie Raitt, and Norah Jones, Small embodies a refined-yet-unfussy, elegant-yet-approachable, and down-to-earth torch singer persona. Curling with smoky jazz, blues, and gospel, Small’s clear, sultry voice can go from a misty and contemplative lilt to a full-bodied, resolute belt.
3 A.M. is the latest in a long string of impressive releases from Small. The Music City resident has established her own blue-eyed soul aesthetic over the years while maintaining a career as an in-demand session singer, guesting with the likes of Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, Peter Frampton, Wynonna Judd, Ray Price, Randy Travis, Kenny Rogers, Ronnie Milsap, Deep Purple, Ray Stevens, Jimmy Hall, Jamey Johnson and more.
She’s also shared the stage with favorites like Martina McBride, Radney Foster and Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman), and you can even catch her in a recurring role as a backup singer on ABC’s Nashville (which, hooray, just got renewed for a fifth season!). For two years, Small was a member of Berklee College of Music’s Voice Department Faculty.
Small comes to Tybee Post Theater on her album release tour, eager to share 3 A.M. with the world. Renewed in her personal growth, it’s sure to be a powerful evening of inspiring resilience, authenticity, and devotion to one’s true self.
“The more I tell the truth, the more I can stand behind my life and my music, and the more it all resonates with people,” Small said in a press release. “Breaking through that shell, and singing honestly connects with people...even if it’s at a whiskey soaked 3 A.M., and a hiccup sneaks out.”
When: Friday, June 17, 8 p.m.
Where: Tybee Post Theater
Cost: $25 via tybeeposttheater.org