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Song You Need to Know: Kelsy Karter, ‘God Knows I’ve Tried’

The New Zealand-born singer-songwriter’s debut album, due next week, includes this special hybrid of rock & roll, jazz, and gospel

Seven seconds into Kelsy Karter’s “God Knows I’ve Tried,” an electric guitar wails languidly and the listener immediately knows what they’re in for. It’s a power ballad, and an undeniably soulful one at that.

“Daddy wishes I was the girl next door, mama tells me I should smile some more,” the New Zealand-born artist serenades jazzily. “Baby, I’ve been bad, but god knows I’ve tried to be good,” Karter adds, before the backing vocals come in to repeat the song’s title in a gospel-esque manner.

An organ part elevates the end of the second verse before chunky drums command attention in time for an earthquake of a bridge. When she belts out that her inability to say sorry doesn’t mean she isn’t sorry for the pain she’s caused, Karter’s voice is akin to Janis Joplin’s on “Cry Baby” — but glossier, and less whiskey-infused.

In the softer parts of the song, it’s clear that Karter drew some inspiration from Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah,” hints of which can still be uncovered despite the modernized, rock & roll direction that “God Knows I’ve Tried” eventually follows.

In regard to musicality, “God Knows I’ve Tried” is the biggest achievement on Missing Person, Karter’s debut album, which will be released on October 2nd. The album as a whole is a fun ride that explores both the struggle and joy of being a woman in what’s long been viewed as a man’s world; it also touches on the heartbreak-induced degeneracy that can precede finding new love and self-acceptance. This song, however, feels more personal than its counterparts, and it’s Karter’s most timeless release yet.

Find a playlist of all of our recent Songs You Need to Know selections on Spotify.

From Rolling Stone US