In songwriting, “hooks” come in different forms. There’s the melodic hook, of course – the one delivered by the vocalist, and often includes the song title. There are musical hooks – a guitar lick, a bass line –repeated throughout the song that you just have to hum. But rarer than those, especially in an age where the words take a back seat to big beats, are lyrical hooks – a turn of phrase or introductory stanza that draws you in and makes you want to hear more. 23-year-old Portland, Maine-born country artist Kalie Shorr has accomplished several of these feats at once on the first single off of her latest EP Awake, “Two Hands.”
“I can drink any man under the table / You say I should have a warning label / But you like it,” Shorr sings, seconds after a simple two-note riff that does its job setting the mood (we’re in a bar, we’re about to witness a confession from a drunk patron). When the chorus hits, it does so with appropriately elevated dynamics and activity, and is no less catchy or significant, as Shorr explains to her beau that the purpose of him having “two hands” is that she is admittedly “hard to handle.”
The opening song on Awake, the title track, is an excellent lead-in for an artist whose break-out hit, 2016’s rocking “Fight Like a Girl” pulled no punches (pun intended). “Awake” starts out subdued, drums rollicking along for the first minute-and-a-half before the beat kicks in. “Candy” is as saccharine as the title implies, but the lyrics make it impossible to dismiss (“Boy you’re delicious / too bad you ain’t nutritious”). “Backseat” finds Shorr starting to get too comfortable in her pocket. It has an enticing ‘80s groove, but it lacks space and breathing room. “Damn Sky,” too, starts out promising, but there’s a lack of deftness in the chorus that may come with age and experience. “Who What Where When Why” refreshingly introduces a sultry side of Shorr.
Awake closes with “Cool Kids,” an enjoyable song that gives us a peek into her origin story, but doesn’t introduce anything new, musically. There is no shame in being formulaic in pop music, and in pop-country music, formulaic is the baseline. That is not meant to be a knock; on the contrary, country music artists have been finding new ways to be innovative, but the challenge is to do so without alienating your fans. Shorr accomplishes this task with the first half of Awake, and while the rest of the album is nothing to be ashamed of, fans may hunger for the next stage of Shorr’s evolution the next time around.