When it comes to singer-songwriters, Mia Kelly is Ottawa’s latest musical force to be reckoned with. At 16 years of age, she’s already spent half of her life in the local music scene steadily building her career, honing her songwriting and performance skills.
Kelly has graced the stages of Bluesfest, CityFolk (Marvest), Festival of Small Halls, Stewart Park Festival, Bar Robo, Rainbow Bistro, Atomic Rooster, Babylon Nightclub, just to name a few. Usually accompanying herself with guitar or piano, Kelly also often shares the stage with her band members Jacob Milnes (guitar) and Luan Mizerski (drums).
Further demonstrating her increasing prominence in Ottawa’s music community, Kelly sold out both of the release shows held in February at the Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield for her latest EP, Cardboard Box — an incredibly strong release for this burgeoning artist. The four track album is a delightfully cohesive piece of work: each track flowing into one another, building in complexity from one song to the next. The arrangements are studied architectures that guide the listener through the album, while her songwriting style borrows from traditional genres and is propelled by her elemental vocal talent.
Cardboard Box starts off with a “All Eyes on Us,” a self-assured track with an accelerated beat and striking vocals. Beginning with a full drum kit and Kelly’s voice, the song is a modern nod to the gospel genre. The track then quickly opens up into a foot stomping bombast with full band compliment. This propulsive tune features lots of percussion accoutrements and brass bellows, all while Kelly’s authoritative vocal performance really drive the song. This is a great introduction to the album and confronts the audience with Kelly’s talent.
The next track, “Cardboard Box,” features beautifully pared down solo acoustic guitar and voice that slowly builds layers of harmonies and distant chordal purrs. It is a charming example of Kelly’s knack for catchy melodies, conceptual songwriting-style, and establishes that she doesn’t need all the bells and whistles to enhance her performance and natural talent. The final two songs on the album build on this core track to show what she can accomplish with even more.
“Dépaysée,” comes full circle to the acoustic and voice base of the opening track, but takes on distinctly different character. The song is soulful and melancholic, using up all the space on the track, taking its time to be expressive, but is by no means slow. It carries a muted intensity that is borne with great effect.
The final track, “Blood in the Water,” is a distinctly blues driven and features brass and piano, all while Kelly’s enthralling and lucid vocals make it impossible to imagine anyone else performing the tune. The song is an example of this artist’s seasoned songwriting style, it taps into something deeper, older, and rooted.
Mia Kelly continuously proves that her age is anything but novelty: she sings and writes songs beyond her years, injecting her performances with the wizened hopefulness that comes to those who tapped into the depths of musical expression that runs through the ages. The album as a whole is an incredibly strong piece of work that cements Mia Kelly as one of Ottawa’s commanding musical talents.
Kelly will be opening for Oh Susanna at MERA Schoolhouse at McDonald’s Corners on Sunday, April 14 at 2 pm. Next, she will be performing on Friday, May 3 at a fundraiser for La maison Mathieu Froment-Savoie. Also, if you’re around later in the summer Kelly will be playing at Propulsion Scene on Saturday, August 10. Stay connected to her website, Facebook, and Twitter, as there are sure to be new shows popping up in the coming months.