It’s been a year of change for KT Tunstall. Last summer the Scottish singer-songwriter finalized a divorce from drummer Luke Bullen, ending a 10-year relationship. Not long after she lost her father, who’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
These seismic life changes are reflected in Tunstall’s latest album Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon, released yesterday on Blue Note Records. Made in Tuscon with producer Howe Gelb, the two-part record is a departure from Tunstall’s usual upbeat folk rock style. Instead, it features spare, countryish instrumentals evoking the austerity of the Sedona desert, and lyrics on mortality, loss, and rebirth. The 38-year-old guitarist says the album’s mirroring of her personal life was unplanned.
“There’s a weird voodoo that can happen with songwriting,” Tunstall said during a private show hosted by KCRW at Apogee Studios. “I’ll write a song and three months later it’s the soundtrack to my life. I think sometimes your subconscious is in tune with things you’re not aware of yet.” “Carried,” a quiet acoustic track about being cared for after death, was written months before her father’s passing.
The rest of Tunstall’s new album is similarly subdued, but that didn’t stop the singer’s playful charm from bubbling out during Monday’s set, which was recorded and will air on "Morning Becomes Eclectic" August 15. Relaxed in leopard print tights and the same black pork pie hat she wears on the album’s cover, Tunstall regaled the audience with personal anecdotes (having to Google her own lyrics before a show) and bits of trivia (the song “Made of Glass,” featuring Andrew Bird, was recorded in just one take). She drew laughter and cheers from the small crowd of a hundred or so that included actress Brooke Shields.
“I took piano lessons for about 12 years, but I only play piano on like, two songs. That makes these the most expensive songs you’ll ever hear,” Tunstall joked as she sat down at a red keyboard for “Yellow Flower,” followed by another piano piece, the standout “Crescent Moon.”
Though most of the evening’s set featured Tunstall’s new, more pensive material, the guitarist closed out the night with her trademark energetic sound—stomping her feet for a rousing, breathy cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper” before launching into one of her most recognizable tunes, “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.”
The KCRW set will air during the August 15 edition of “Morning Becomes Eclectic.” Tunstall returns to L.A. October 11 for a two-night engagement at Hollywood Forever.