On the surface, this album has all the hallmarks of being just another run-of-the-mill Nashville pop-country affair, but dig a little deeper and take some time to listen, and you’ll find it to be quite the contrary. “I Ain’t A Saint” is undeniably a new-country album, and for the uninitiated, could easily be perceived as the work of an up-and-coming native Tennessean – thanks in part to the smooth production in sound that Nashville studios do so well. But your assumption would be wrong, because while much of the original songwriting across the album have roots sown on Music Row, the stories originate from afar in La Belle Province.
Beaconsfield, QC country artist Brittany Kennell first came to our attention with her frequent performances of “O Canada” on televised Habs hockey games last season, and more recently, with her singles that ramped up the anticipation for this debut album release. Growing up on a diet of her parents’ 90s new-country music, it becomes easier to understand how an impressionable young lady from the Montreal suburbs developed a taste at an early age for music found in bars, saloons, and honky-tonks all over the US.
With influences ranging from Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, and Sheryl Crow, it would be Shania Twain that gave Brittany her first taste of the live-music experience, paving the way for her to find her own music calling. And with some tongue-in-cheek lyrics of her own, Kennell embraces the very embodiment of Twain’s global success; confidence, empowerment, and refusal to be constrained within the outdated misogynistic roles and structures often associated within this conservative genre.
With song titles such as “Bought The T-Shirt” and “Eat Drink Remarry,” Brittany not only checks all of those tongue-in-cheek boxes, but demonstrates an uncanny ability to highlight the many cliché’s found at the heart of most modern country music (“he left … she left … the dog left”). Of course, challenging such cliché’s can be traced back to those 90s Shania Twain influences – where “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” “Man, I Feel Like A Woman,” and “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” all sought to empower women through music – and paved the way for contemporaries that followed (Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert) to continue jabbing away at the status quo with their music success.
Like her contemporaries, Brittany’s music gives prominence to the latest generation of women in country who, with courage, strength and determination, are publicly stating ‘enough is enough.’ No more favoritism to male country artists by radio station executives and their male-dominant playlists. No more gender gaps on the festival circuit, where female artists are both under-represented and rarely given headlining status. The time to address such blatant inequalities and hypocrisy is now – and what better way to start that movement and spread the message through the power of song? And who cares if “You Don’t Get Me Stoned” may be a little uncomfortable for small-town America (could Music Row even entertain the title?), because for a girl from Montreal, this is no more than a perfectly ‘everyday’ tongue-in-cheek observation of Canadian culture and society.
It must be said, however, that Brittany Kennell is no one-trick pony here. Go ahead and spend time truly absorbing tracks such as “Drunk Lips” and “Most Wanted,” and you’ll very quickly discover an artist equally comfortable baring her soul and serious nature. Both powerfully written and performed – and radio-friendly too – these are the songs that shall endear her to a wider audience who share her passion for new-country. Yet out of all ten of the songs found here, it is the opening track, “Neither Did I,” that I feel really solidifies Brittany’s stake in the game – and certainly elevates her from an endless stream of emerging artists looking for their own piece of real estate in an already densely populated genre. “I Ain’t A Saint” is a strong debut album from an artist not only making a name for herself, but who is always a pleasure to hear cranking out the anthems at the Bell Centre. You know, a little birdie tells me that Brittany shall be in attendance at the rink tonight for the Habs-Wings match up – two anthems for the price of one!
Photo Credit: Lindsay Kennell Photography