REVIEW: Katie Pruitt’s “Expectations” Is Unguarded and Deeply Intelligent


Music isn’t always love at first listen. A few days after singer-songwriter-guitar player Katie Pruitt’s full-length debut, Expectations (Rounder Records), dropped into my inbox, and before I’d had a chance to give it a proper spin, I came across the video for the title track. Probably because I was doing other things at the time, I wasn’t immediately enamored. But I was intrigued, and I knew I wanted to listen again. Later on, I did. And did again. And again. A few days later, after taking in the entire album, and between her songs, the guitar work, and her voice – that VOICE – I was fully on board.

The record leads off with “Wishful Thinking,” a realistic look at love that starts simply enough, with Pruitt’s soft voice and clean electric guitar, before adding layers and building up to a string arrangement that borders on lush without ever being too much. Pruitt dials down on love’s false promises – “Do those people on the movie screen make you crazy/You spend every night just thinking ‘bout it/Don’t you baby” – while slowly ratcheting up her voice until it positively soars at the end: “’Cause I was never yours dear/And you were never mine.” She exhibits even more of a vocal howl in “My MInd’s A Ship (That’s Going Down).” And that title track? It’s got rebellion against generic expectations, enough indie jangle to bury itself in your brain for days, and one of the best lines you’ll hear this year, delivered by a wiser (and presumably older) friend: “She said you’re being way too generous/With all the f@&ks you’re giving.”

That older-aiding-younger perspective defines Pruitt on this album. She’s 25, but she writes like an 18-year-old who’s about to turn 40 – both pissed off and world-weary, unguarded and deeply intelligent and introspective, pessimistic but with a fair amount of hope and perspective. She makes no secret of her sexuality. But even in today’s (allegedly) more open, accepting world, her frankness is unusual. “Georgia” is a sort of origin story for the singer. She grew up in suburban Atlanta, a place where, even in this century, coming out was not well received – “I wanted to be honest, I wanted to be brave/But if grandmother knew she would roll her grave.” Leaving the hatefulness of her home state was her answer: “There is a place past the Georgia pines/With people who welcome you with an open mind.” She seems to have found that acceptance in Nashville, where she’s now based, and she’s penned a much happier song, this one about a successful relationship. “Loving Her” (the video for which was shot at a Nashville Pride event) finds her defiant, but content – “But if living her is wrong/And it’s not right to write this song/Then I’m still not gonna stop/And you can turn the damn thing off.”

Overall, Expectations has the urgency of an album that Pruitt HAD to write to establish herself, not only professionally, but personally. “Grace Has A Gun” flashes back to an old relationship with a damaged person – “She thinks that the scars on her arms/Mean that she’s in control.” Grace’s words and actions are her weapons (although the gun itself, according to Pruitt, was quite real). Writing and recording Expectations, though, has allowed Pruitt to grow – she’s made headway with her family, and she even reconnected with the infamous Grace. And the album’s closer, “It’s Always Been You,” is a piano-driven ode to the best moments of a healthier relationship. Strings swell, Pruitt’s voice soars a final time, and the record ends with the feeling of a young woman who’s found a good place to stay for a little while.

Expectations was produced by Michael Robinson and Pruitt, recorded by Gary Paczosa and Mike Robinson, mixed by Paczosa and mastered by Paul Blakemore. All songs were penned by Pruitt, with two co-writes – “My Mind’s A Ship (Jess Nolan) and “Expectations” (Ross McReynolds, Calvin Knowles and Hank Born). Additional musicians include a veritable phalanx of guitar players (Johnny Williamson, Jedd Hughes, Zachariah Witcher, Luke Enyeart and Born), Nolan (backing vocals), McReynolds (drums), Knowles (bass), Ian Miller and David Crutcher (keys), Eric Darken (percussion), Alicia Enstrom, Laura Epling and Kristen Weber (violin), Jake Tudor and Betsy Lamb (viola), Maggie Chaffee and Austin Hoke (cello) Robinson (guitars, keys and percussion), and Mike Robinson and Jordan Lehning (string arrangements).

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