If you were asked to name a vocalist from British Columbia, chances are you’d say Diana Krall, or perhaps Michael Bublé. But there is another Western Canadian you need to know about. He is Michael Kaeshammer (pronounced “case-hammer.”) Born in Offenburg, Germany in 1977, he moved with his family to Victoria. B.C. in his late teens, and almost immediately began performing in local clubs.
Like Krall, he started out as strictly a pianist, though their styles couldn’t be more different. Kaeshammer, whose has spent considerable time in New Orleans and seems to have soaked up every drop of musical atmosphere the Big Easy has to offer, favors stride and boogie woogie. His debut album, Blue Keys, released when he was just 19, is strictly solo piano. Kaeshammer the singer nudged into the picture a couple of years later on Tell You How I Feel, then again on 2000’s No Strings Attached, joining his bandmates on a call-and-response “Move It On Over” but leaving the heavy vocal lifting to Carol Welsman, who contributed a sweet and sassy “Basin Street Blues.”
Strut followed in 2003, revealing Kaeshammer to be a fine vocal interpreter of standards (among the album’s best tracks: a delectably slow and seductive “Comes Love”). Clearly a devotee of Harry Connick Jr., as a singer Kaeshammer suggests a hipper, more soulful and eminently worldlier Peter Cincotti (another Connick acolyte), with a dash of Jamie Cullum’s puckish insouciance. Strut also marked Kaeshammer’s maturation as a songwriter, a talent brought to full blossom on Days Like These in 2007.
As early as No Strings Attached, Kaeshammer was crafting superb instrumentals, including the majestically atmospheric “Snow At Lake Simcoe,” the playful yet dense and rich “On A Rainy Day” and the rollicking “Kaes Closed.” But on Days Like These, Kaeshammer’s equal impressive gift for lyrics came into sharp focus on such wide-ranging tracks as the jauntily sage “Cinnamon Sun,” deeply introspective (and distinctly Sting-esque) “Too Far Down” and bluesy, penitent “I Left a Note.” (It also includes an intensely beautiful “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” with Kaeshammer trading tender verses with Dione Taylor).
All of Kaeshammer’s strengths collide on his most recent release, Lovelight. A multihued valentine, it opens, lyrically and stylistically, in New Orleans, with the title track, a hard-boppin’ sermon on the pricelessness of inner joy. The theme of self-realization continues in the jaunty “On My Own.” His sweetly romantic “Isabelle” is offset by the boisterous adieu to loneliness that is “Goodbye,” and the percolated bliss of “Give You My Heart.” Kaeshammer’s covers prove just as magical. His easy-going “Cupid,” warmed by a touch of friskiness, is as enticing as Sam Cooke’s, his “Glory of Love” is a fine study in dreamy idealism and, move over Andrews Sisters, he transforms “Bei Mir Bist du Schon” into two-and-a-half-minutes of steamy foreplay.
Kaeshammer now divides his time between Toronto and New York, and is gradually gaining attention south of the 49th parallel. But it’s time the squeaks of stateside recognition were elevated to roars. Lovelight can easily hold its own against just about any vocal album of the past few years. Take my word for it: the guy isn’t just enormously talented and marvelously entertaining, but also exceedingly cool. (For more on Kaeshammer, check out his website.
If you’d like to share your thoughts on Michael Kaeshammer, or have ideas or suggestions for future installments of “Hearing Voices,” I can be reached at [email protected]