Kat Edmonson’s voice flickers and flits around some familiar words about sadness, inspiration and being out of step with one’s era. Yet her reading of Brian Wilson’s I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times sounds decidedly different than the Beach Boys’ original. The Houston native takes the song in a slow, torchy direction that suits it nicely.
“I was getting on a plane the other day and I heard this Fleetwood Mac song, and I thought it was the original,” says Edmonson, who after a spell in Austin now calls New York home. “Then I heard some more, and I realized it was someone covering the original, but they’d taken the exact same arrangement and harmonies. And I thought, ‘What a drag.’ It just made me want to hear the original version. If I do a song, it’s because I really love it, but I want to put a different spin on it and hopefully show what the song means to me.”
Earlier this year, Edmonson, 29, released Way Down Low, her second album, which includes the Wilson song, a couple of telling interpretations of older songs and a majority of Edmonson originals, which tiptoe among jazz and folk and pop. She cites Nina Simone’s approach as an influence. “She was singing rock tunes, jazz tunes, folk tunes, but it all sounded like Nina,” Edmonson says. “The line between these genres of music seems like a fine one. I don’t even know what to call it. But I’m releasing it on my own label, which makes you think about things from a marketing perspective. The label self says, ‘Why did you have to make a record that’s so complicated?’ And the artistic self says, ‘Well, that’s just me. This is what I have to offer.’
“A song is a song is a song, right?”
One of those songs is Whispering Grass, an old Ink Spots standard that Edmonson stretches out past seven minutes. The song ties her back to Houston. An Ink Spots show was her first concert. Her mother took her to see the legendary ensemble at a venue she can’t recall near the Galleria. She was in the second grade. Edmonson says she was writing songs around age 8, but it wasn’t until after the Lamar grad, who joined the choir in high school, left Houston that she started singing in public by herself.
Edmonson had a brief dalliance with American Idol during the show’s second season. She made the top 48 before judge Randy Jackson offered the unhelpful and unmusical observation: She didn’t look like a star.
Queue Wilson’s refrain.
Edmonson was unfazed. “It wasn’t like I had my head in the clouds about a lot of things,” she says. “You never know how something will go until you try it. But I just wasn’t what they were looking for. In retrospect, of course I wasn’t. I stuck out like a sore thumb.”
She did stand out among the aspiring pop stars. But since Edmonson appeared on “Idol,” the show has hosted numerous other singers who traffic in a similar high, cooing, jazzy phrasing. Edmonson benefits from tremendous control of her instrument and a sense of daring in her song selection and interpretation.
Edmonson made a strong debut in 2009 with Take to the Sky, which found her pulling from varied sources one might expect (Gershwin, Porter, Goffin) and some less predictable (Lennon, the Cardigans).
Way Down Low took a little longer. Edmonson wrote half of the songs. Among them is the lightly swinging Long Way Home, which she’s also recorded as a duet with Lyle Lovett. She returned the favor, singing with Lovett on his take of Baby, It’s Cold Outside on his latest album.
“I got to know her when she was in Austin a couple of years ago, and I thought we should do something together,” says Lovett. “She has such a great voice, and she’s does a really good job making standards her own.”
Of course, their duet is of a song Frank Loesser wrote in 1944, which brings I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times to mind again.
“It’s a sentiment I relate to,” Edmonson says of Wilson’s song. “Though there have been a few things this year — one being Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ — that made me think, ‘Maybe I’m just perfect for this time.’ But I guess, more often than not, I feel like I’ve been from a time not mine.”
When: 6 and 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9
Where: McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk
Tickets: $20-$22; 713-528-5999 or www.mcgonigels.com<>/a