Album Review: Kelsie James — ‘Songs About Daisies’

Not many teenagers can say they’ve already made a dent in their career bucket list. But since performing at a music festival for thousands of people and releasing her five-song EP, 16-year-old Urbandale musician Kelsie James has bagged two of her goals.

James played Des Moines’ 80/35 last summer, and released Songs About Daisies earlier this year — an engaging exploration of both the passion and confidence of youth. The EP features a warm, lush orchestration that blends elements of alt-country and gospel.

The organ that introduces and weaves through both “Things That We Don’t Talk About” and “One Hundred” envelop the listener like the glow of a sunrise cresting over a hilltop. The steady strumming and mellow strings of “Settle with Me” are cozy and inviting.

Through it all, the confidence in James’ vocals belies her age. “Lost in You” is an excellent example of her range. Starting out whispering and wounded, James digs deep to infuse her choruses with soulful crescendos that send the track soaring. On “Love Me Not or Love Me So,” she taps into a heartbroken blues groove with convincing sincerity.

If Songs About Daisies stumbles anywhere, it’s on the lyrics, which can at times feel circular or contrived. But occasionally, James hits at a wisdom beyond her years. On “Settle with Me,” she croons, “I don’t care what the gossips have to say / I don’t care if the small town casts me away / Give up my whole life to live with you in the mundane.” Here, the lyrics are evocative and resonant, reflecting an ability to step into someone else’s shoes and tell an engaging story.

There is an emotional maturity that James is connected to on this EP that lends her songwriting unique authenticity. More than simply mimicking her influences, she’s building on them.

Songs About Daisies is a promising debut. As James’ experiences continue to shape her worldview, there is reason to be encouraged by what comes next.

This article was originally published in Little Village’s May 2023 issues.