The supremely gifted Chapel Hill-based singer-songwriter Rachel Kiel has demonstrated her estimable talents for the better part of a decade, but her third full-length, Shot From a Cannon, immediately announces itself with a powerful statement of intent. The opening title track is a tour de force of crashing harmonies, surprise melodic twists, and yearning vocals that brings to mind Big Star's "O My Soul" by way of "Ladykillers"-era Lush. It's a perfect table setter for a remarkable album that finds Kiel finally alchemizing her diverse influences into an organic whole, equal parts noise rock, decorous folk, and psych-addled roots rock.
There's generosity to Kiel's music, from the expansive, aching new wave grace notes of "Charged" to the insistent minor-key heartbeat of the painful, emotional travelogue "Elm and Pine." It's a pleasure to marinate in the rich textures of Kiel's keening alto, especially on relaxed but charged fare like the resigned "I Can See You Going" or the calmly unhinged "Just to Talk to You."
Abetted by a raft of talented locals including Matt Douglas (The Hot at Nights, the Mountain Goats), former Flesh Wounds drummer Laura King, and Skylar Gudasz, Kiel moves comfortably from country shuffles to rave-ups. She even effectively swings for the fences on the pull-out-all-the-stops ballad "Clara," with its echoes of everything from Burt Bacharach to Chrissie Hynde's classic "I'll Stand by You."
The accumulating effect is impressive enough that it renders even a delightful, thematically appropriate set-closing cover of Marshall Crenshaw's "You're My Favorite Waste of Time" as a minor disappointment. Crenshaw's great, but Kiel is too. With a songwriter of this caliber working at this high level, one more original is always preferable.