Kendall Beard may describe her music as Texas country, but as the title of her debut album, ALL AROUND GIRL (VMG, Sept. 17, 2013), suggests, the Austinite’s talents range as far and wide as her favorite state. She discovered them early, too; Beard started dreaming about a career in music when she was a child.
It didn’t take her long to act on that dream; she made her singing debut at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo while still in junior high school, delivering songs to cover costume changes during a dance competition. (A member of the troupe, she danced, too.)
Her parents knew she loved singing — they gave in to her pleas for voice lessons when she was 10 — but when they saw her perform in public, Beard recalls, they were blown away. Her father began booking her on the Texas rodeo circuit; they spent weekends traveling to gigs.
“From 13 on, I hit it hard,” she says. Raised on Muscle Shoals soul and Louisiana’s rich musical roux blended with Sheryl Crow and Miranda Lambert influences, Beard developed a sultry sound that attracted scouts from Boyz II Men, who were forming an all-girl act. At 15, she left her small East-Texas hometown and moved to Philadelphia to sing in Sahara Lane, finishing high school online. But college lured her back to the lone star state. Beard majored in communications at the University of Texas at Austin, which led to a PR internship with a major label in Los Angeles.
“It made me realize I couldn’t settle for the business side,” Beard says. “I have to be on the creative side.”
After friends convinced her to try out for season eight of “American Idol,” she wound up auditioning in Puerto Rico — then singing several times on the show as a semi-finalist.
“That really fueled my fire and helped me get a fan base here at home,” Beard says. Inspired, she began writing the songs that became ALL AROUND GIRL. With help from producer AJ Vallejo and his brother Alex, she honed them into 10 alluring tracks, from the sexy, rockin’ first single and video, “Drinkin’” — which sounds party-ready, but carries a country-classic note of caution — to introspective ballads such as “Give You the World.” In that one, she mourns how love sometimes just isn’t enough.
There is indeed a straight-ahead party song, “Out of My Skin,” but its flip side is “The Fall,” a very personal expression of the tolls a loved one’s addiction takes. In “Can’t Hold Me Down,” the opener, Beard reveals her determination to step over life’s obstacles. And in “Part of Me,” the closer, she celebrates love’s joys.
She’s backed throughout by the Latin-rocking Vallejo brothers, plus other top Austinites including steel guitarist Geoff Queen and string virtuoso Haydn Vitera. But Beard is front and center, delivering what she calls “a vocal documentary of my life over the past five years.”
“This album is my baby,” she says. “Every time I thought it was done, I’d write something better.
“Every song is personal,” Beard adds. “I honestly feel very exposed. But that’s OK, because I believe that the best music comes from speaking the truth.”