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Kingmaker by Canadian-born, New Zealand-based Tami Neilson is one of those records that immediately makes you start grabbing at comparisons, ways to bottle up a pat description so you can instantly shorthand to everyone you know what they’re in store for. The problem is … it’s a little bit unclassifiable.

At turns, shades of Shirley Bassey and Roy Orbison pop up. Elvis, Patsy, Judy, Aretha. Split seconds of each raise the hair on your neck, but make no mistake: Tami Neilson is all her own damned thing.

She’s a study in contrasts. Listen to the retro, string-drenched title tune a little too carelessly and you might not notice that it’s a big middle finger to the way the music industry treats women, and suddenly Patsy and Judy are in the rearview mirror and it’s Chrissie Hynde in your passenger seat, spitting nails and heading in to “Careless Woman.” A few songs later, she’s selling you some “Green Peaches” with every last ounce of her inner Bobbie Gentry.

Kingmaker is a record full of great beauty: her (more desert western than country) duet with Willie Nelson—“Beyond the Stars”—is as lovely and lonesome as anything Willie ever came up with on his own. I wish I could talk about music a little more academically to know if the reason it works has anything to do with minor keys or major keys or whateverthehell. All I know is it sounds like it’s been around forever. It was in my bones the first time I heard it.

Neilson has been around a while—this is at least her seventh or eighth album. Which means you have a lot of catching up to do. But you don’t need to spend any time trying to figure out who she reminds you of. She’s Tami Freaking Neilson, and that’s just about plenty enough.

About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.

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  • Freaking breathtaking. Thank you!

  • Wow. Just Wow.

  • How great that you spotlighted her music! She (and her music) feature in the latest season of Brokenwood Mysteries on Acorn.

    • It’s been there since season one… Always fun to play ‘spot the Tami’

    • I found her through Brokenwood Mysteries as well — that series has featured her music since season 1. The entire series features that style of music — I would classify it as Americana, ironically.

    • I so enjoy Tami Neilson. Definitely Western music in my opinion. Think High Noon.

      Yes, love Brokenwood and its music!

    • Music and a mystery series. This is why MDK is my first visit every morning. I would not have these recommendations from anywhere else.

    • I also love Brokenwood and I have noticed the music during the shows this season. Now I can’t wait to listen to the music to hear what’s familiar.

      Love the description, DG.

    • love brokenwood!

    • That’s where I saw her, also. Great show, btw.

  • Soooo cool…. First thought was “this sounds like a Bond song” and then I read your mention of Shirley Bassey. Thank you for the recommendation

  • Never heard of her but my first impression was Patsy Kline 2022. Damn what a voice.

  • “If my famine makes your feast…”

    Wow, thanks for this daymaker.

  • My husband and I started watching the fabulous New Zealand TV series Brokenwood on Acorn TV when the pandemic kept us homebound., I don’t think we can go back to American TV again. But that’s another conversation. But Brokenwood plays the most fabulous backround music and that’s where we discovered Tami Nielson. We.started listing to Tami Nielson for the first time.WOW where has she been all this time?

  • DG sometimes—often—ok, most of the time—you make me feel like I have not been paying proper attention to anything. This is but one example.

    • yes indeed. thanks DG

  • What a superb range of vocals and styles! And Tami fills all of them with her award winning voice. Whatever your source may be for finding such gems of the musical world, please keep sharing. I look forward to your MKDK blogs.

  • Amazing! And isn’t that Jennifer Lopez doing a little cameo?

    • nah, not Lopez

  • I went straight away to YouTube and watched the video of the duet with Willie Nelson. Then watched the video for Walk (Back to Your Arms). You are spot on DG. Retro without kitsch. My heart will never be the same!

  • All I can say is DANG! Love it.

    • OMG, as a lifelong knitter, this has made my day! Thank you for this beautiful review and for simultaneously unlocking and fulfilling a dream I never knew I had. Is there anything more gangster than a review in a knitting mag?? I think not (Also, thanks to all you Brokenwood fans for the lovely comments. Now I can picture you all knitting while watching it around the world )

      • I had no idea. Thank you!

      • Tami, we didn’t even know you were a knitter – but that makes it all the sweeter to be in love with you! Knitters always find one another somehow.

  • Goosebumps here.

  • I REALLY don’t need another YouTube channel to follow But holy smokes, that voice!

  • Omg. This is the music I NEED this summer. Many thanks

    • Thank you, thank you. Lyrics so timely. And thanks to all for Acorn recommendation

  • “Beyond the Stars” is in 3/4, or waltz, time.
    Which might explain, in part, why it seems so familiar, and so evocative.

  • Thank you for sharing this incredible piece of music !!! I love Tami’s beautiful voice, could listen to her all night and beyond. One person wrote it reminded her a Bond movie. Yes!! It does. I want more. The other women in the video wearing their and Tami’s beautiful costumes were awe inspiring ❤️

  • Like others, I made the Brokenwood connection. I am so pleased to learn more about this artist and to see her work featured here. I will definitely check her out.

  • All this AND she knits!

  • Another fan of Tami Nelson and Brokenwood here. Her songs were the soundtrack to my 2017 road trip from Virginia to South Dakota to visit my family. I’m getting ready to make that trip again, and I can’t wait to dig into Kingmaker.

  • way cool. thank you

  • I love it when a reviewer hears what I hear!

    • Might add: she is well worth a listen IRL. I first saw/heard her a few years ago at the Tønder Festival in Denmark, and can’t wait to see her again there in a few short weeks.
      ‘Kingmaker’has a perfect length for my commute by train to work – and it’s been a perfect partner for knitting a baby blanket for a friend’s daughter to be.

  • Wow, what a voice! Thank you so much, DG for this introduction to Tami Neilson! Trouble is, I am spell-bound watching her videos – I couldn’t knit more than a few lonely stitches. Worth every minute. Thanks again.

  • DG, OMG, where has this gal been all my life?? Her voice is amaze-balls! I hear Patsy Cline, Linda Ronstadt and others, as you said. I’m listening to her as I type and I’m blown away. Thanks so much for cluing us all in to this gem of a singer!

  • Wow, this is fantastic!!!

  • I just saw the Tami Neilson recommendation in today’s snippet round up. Coincidentally I am listening to Kingmaker as I read my snippets! I was lucky enough to see her last year at a music festival in Ottawa. She filled an outdoor venue with music and dazzle. Just more proof that your recommendations deserve delving!

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