CaroMia Tiller, who goes by just her first name on her album, The Spectrum, has one of those voices that won’t be stopped. Capable of multiple octaves and endless acrobatics, she not just sings but leaps, soars and swoops through her songs.
But Spectrum, while soulful throughout and jazzy at points, is also distinctly Southern. Even Appalachian, from touches of mandolin (Matt Williams) to CaroMia’s considerable twang.
“Just A River” is a standout track, rife with atmosphere and building excitement. CaroMia’s vocal bounces and sweeps, much like the river she sings about. But it’s the background that really elevates the track: support vocals from Mary Ellen Bush and Williams and tasteful strings arrangements.
Listen to “Just A River” here:
“Be Kind” is a gospel-infused, organ-rich waltz. Sung all over CaroMia’s range, the emotional impact is felt even before the lyrics make themselves clear. A keening violin colors the song, and the gentlest of percussion keeps a muffled tempo. When she sings, “I’m wondering, I’m wondering, when do I get my magic ring,” CaroMia recalls torch singers from Patsy Kline to Etta James.
“Nothing Like You” edges up against Otis Redding-type soul, but where Redding might have added horns, CaroMia brings in mandolin, steel guitar and the heavy thump of stand up bass (Bush). And if that sounds like a strange experimentation, Spectrum proves that mountain strings do not come up short in the soul department.
“Hole In My Pocket” is another standout. Here, CaroMia stays mainly in the lower end of her range. The beat is a slinky, bluesy r&b pulse. It could exist half-a-century or more ago, in a deep-South juke joint. The song breaths and sweats its longing, but the sexy behind-the-beat groove is paired with a church chorus of background voices and piano melody. Make a moody, swampy video for this song and watch it go viral: That’s my two cents.
The final track is a rehashing of the spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” The song before that; CaroMia’s original “Bird On My Shoulder” is a departure from most of the album. Gone are the soul references, replaced by ethereal instrumentation. Strings sweep and swoon, CaroMia’s vocal is theatrical (think: Eden Ahbez/Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy”). She expands into resonant low notes and soars on waves of emotion. This song comes off like a modern take on “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, and it deserves a stage production to set the song off right.
Spectrum does indeed run the spectrum — of octaves, of styles, of range. And while CaroMia proves herself adept at each turn, it would be exciting to hear her run with the style she shows off on “Bird On My Shoulder.” The potential there is fresh and untapped and it’s a genre rarely heard in Asheville.
Watch CaroMia and Aaron Woody Wood perform “Virgil Grape” from Spectrum: