Monday, March 8, 2021
Arts + Culture Music New Music: Clarity, tenderness mark Kelly McFarling's twangy 'Delicate'

New Music: Clarity, tenderness mark Kelly McFarling’s twangy ‘Delicate’

In new single, the local alt-folk singer-songwriter feels out the power and limitations of words today.


There is a certain way—a guarded, lukewarm, polite manner—that Atlanta-born, Bay Area-based singer-songwriter Kelly McFarling repeats the word “delicate” in her new release of the same name. It’s that measured repetition throughout her lead single and video that transcends the usual alt-folk sincerity. It’s those slightly wary country expressions, by way of slide guitar wisdom, that slowly lets you in. 

The song was written “about the power and limitations of words,” a referendum of sorts on the weird times over the past four years, and McFarling wants accountability, clarity, and tenderness to return as affable qualities in human nature. “Be careful with your words, mean what you say, and don’t throw them around.” 

Shot in the Outer Sunset, right by Ocean Beach, the video captures McFarling taking quintessential foggy bike rides (that’s what that neighborhood does) or perfecting her yoga-shuttling dance moves, while serene mountain vistas decorate the background.

You become aware of a process at work here. These visuals, sometimes taken for granted by us locals, are matching up with her verbs.

After racking up accolades for a decade straight in Paste, Glide Magazine, and Noisey, this artist who “captures a specific flavor palette forged of Georgia clay and California gold” is lining up pop-melodies that swirl in the twang of grounded truth.

Album Deep The Habit, to be self-released on March 12th, is meant to capture the downhill gliding feel of McFarling’s live shows with her band. The record introduces Andrew Brennan as a collaborator and co-writer, deepening the spectrum of instrumental arrangement; an earthy evolution of past folk-centered albums. The band features Tim Marcus on pedal steel, Oscar Westesson on Bass, Nick Cobbett on drums, Andrew Brennan on guitar, and Brittany Powers on background vocals. Its themes speak on the overall complexities of life; the tension between holding fast to one’s roots and clearing space for fresh green growth.

Her 2017 release Water Dog, a minimal, deeply reflective record, presented the songwriter as a virtuoso entertainer. But the aforementioned Deep the Habit promises a return of the bandleader-frontwoman, equipped with folksy swagger and nuance. Inspired by the notion of a feminine take on JJ Cale or Dire Straits, McFarling’s contribution to that songwriting and performance style comes equipped with veteran performance chops; it’s a talent we hope to see live later this year with McFarling headlining at Rickshaw or another live performance space in the city.

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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