Thursday, June 16, 2022

Kat Riggins - Progeny

The late, great Irish comedian Dave Allen always used to finish his TV shows by saying, “Good night, thank you, and may your god go with you”.  It was a subtle salutation, indicating tolerance of others’ beliefs while making it clear he trod his own path - generally after spending a good part of his act knocking the stuffing out of the rituals and hypocrisy of religion.  NB – religion, rather than faith.
I mention this because on her latest album Progeny, Kat Riggins offers up several songs rooted very clearly in her faith.  Being an atheist myself, I lean towards the Dave Allen perspective – I'm happy for your god to go with you, but please don’t expect me to go too.  So my response to some of these songs is mixed.
Kat Riggins - true to herself in technicolour
Pic by Dennica Pearl Worrell
On the downside, ‘Got To Be God’ and ‘Warriors’ come over as pretty glib.  The former is laid back soul with a decent tune and arrangement, and some steely, evocative guitar from co-producer Mike Zito.  But I don’t buy lines like “There ain’t no love except holy love” and “It’s got to be god”.  And on ‘Warriors’ the stabbing riff and more zinging guitar from Zito are both far more interesting than stuff about “The devil knows I ain’t in this thing alone,” or "With legions of sinners behind me".
But this isn’t to say that none of Riggins' faith-charged material works.  She sounds totally convincing on the a cappella gospel vignette of ‘Walk With Me Lord’ – a reminder that faith and its attendant music, as vehicles for both hope and despair, were major components of the black American experience in the darkest of times.  And the closing ’40 25:40’ is a reference to the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in the Gospel of St Matthew, and specifically a verse in which Christ observes that “What you do to the least of men, that you do to me” – a powerful sentiment even when couched in a Biblical context of Judgement Day that does nothing for me, and which is given a satisfyingly tough and gritty funk setting.
Away from Riggins’ evangelical bent, the opener ‘Walk On’ is all big tense chords, sustaining a strutting declaration of assertiveness, with a squealing cacophony of guitar from Zito underneath the coda.  In fact Zito selects a particular, edgy guitar sound that provides connective tissue sustaining much of the album.  On the funky and insistent ‘Espresso’, for example, his scything wah-wah cranks up the energy to match Riggins’ arresting line that “She’s got eyes like espresso and I’m feeling the buzz”.
Other highlights include the swinging blues of ‘In My Blood’, with shuffling drums from Matt Johnson and piano boogie from Lewis Stephens, and the funky party tune ‘My City’ paying tribute to Riggins’ home town of Miami, with a triple whammy of stinging guitar from the guesting Albert Castiglia, rubber band bass from Doug Byrkit, and a rattlingly rhythmic rap break from Busta Free.
The tentpole track though, is ‘Promised Land’.  It’s an angry, defiant song fit for these days when it has to be stated that black lives matter, protesting that “I still got shackles on my feet”.  Grinding guitars and sonorous drums and bass combine to create the dark mood, with quaking guitar effects and howling soloing from Zito, and Riggins quoting lines from ‘Voodoo Chile’ to underline the strident sentiments.
Unfortunately, a couple of overlong, so-so tunes, with rather predictable lyrical themes, detract from the impact of the best stuff.  But regardless of the quality of the material, or its lyrical intent, Riggins delivers it with commitment and a strong, gutsy voice.  This is a talented, forceful vocalist in the mould of Shemekia Copeland, as Progeny often demonstrates.  If she can improve the strike-rate of her songwriting, making it more universal while remaining true to herself, then Kat Riggins may really start to fulfil her potential.
 is released by Gulf Coast Records on 24 June.
Read the review of Kat Riggins' previous album Cry Out here.

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