Sultry smoke and white-hot fire escape the lips of Austin singer/songwriter Kelly Hafner on her debut release, If it’s Love. It’s an ambitious work for an independent artist releasing her first full-length album.
The Berklee College of Music graduate steps to the front of seven and eight-piece ensembles that include drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, horns, and strings on funky soul head-bobbers like “Things Are Changin,” “Lifted,” and “On My Mind.” She explores deep vintage vocal-driven tracks on tunes like “If It’s Love” and reggae influences in “Give Light.” Songs like “Summergirl” and “Angel” even wind their way into R&B/minimalism.
It’s all wrapped in the warm bow of Hafner’s show-stopping voice and unmistakably improvisational style, which promise to keep listeners hooked from start to finish. Echoing the traditions of her soul forebears like Etta James, Lauryn Hill, Marvin Gaye, and Amy Winehouse, If it’s Love tests the boundaries of neo-soul in a refreshing way.
Hafner grew up in northern California and headed to Berklee a couple years after graduating from high school. There she learned music theory, ear training, and vocal performance. On graduation, she returned to San Francisco and began writing and recording music in her bedroom. She performed with Fire, a San Francisco-based live band, before eventually moving to Austin to begin her career as a solo artist.
From there, Hafner met producer Derek Hames (The Drugstore Gypsies, National Park Radio, The Buffalo Ruckus) and the two began the collaboration on If it’s Love. Recorded at Hames’ Edgewater Studios just outside Houston, the record was made with a mix of Hafner’s Austin band and a bevy of talented studio musicians.
In the end, Hafner’s view of her own music is what gives it true soul. “This release is for anyone who finds peace or happiness from listening to the songs, to express truth rather than perfection, to be an understanding force for people who need it, when they need it. There’s something special about communicating with people through sound, before even meeting them. That I think is magic.”
Poised to release If it’s Love, we suspect she’ll find more and more people appreciating the music every day. Stay tuned for big things from Kelly Hafner.