I tend to concentrate on singer/songwriters, but I have always admired Kathy Mattea’s voice. It has been about 6 years since Kathy has recorded, because she was in danger of losing her voice, or at least it was changing. The classically trained Mattea hired a jazz music coach to help her get a voice back…singing country folk songs! Ah, you have to love music.
To be honest, Kathy has very carefully chosen songs that took her a year to record. Apart from one obvious song on here, the songs are not exactly repeatedly covered songs. Kathy has a similar voice (now) to my favourite Female Country Music singer/songwriter, Mary Chapin Carpenter. There are some fine songwriters, on here, don’t get me wrong, specifically Joan Osborne, Jesse Winchester, Bobbie Gentry (the obvious song), and Hazel Dickens, but we’re not talking Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Tammy Wynette, MCC, etc, here, and songs that are done over and over again.
These are all beautiful songs. Kathy sings them from the heart, and hardly like someone who is losing a voice, if anything, I think that she is sounding better. She teamed up with fellow West Virginian, Tim O’Brien to put this album together.
She thinks of herself as a West Virginian who lives in Tennessee, where she has lived since she was 19. The interpretations of these songs, some which sound familiar, if not well known, are sometimes in the footsteps of Joan Baez and Judy Collins, rather than the torch and twang of what is considered more trad. country. It is definitely a mix of styles, mostly favouring folk, Appalachian music and a Celtic thread is there too.
I am a folkie, first, have been since I was about 4 in the 1960’s, and that is probably why I am drawn to someone like Kathy, when I normally would have favoured a songwriter. It speaks to that little kid whose first loves in music were more The Seekers, Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan and James Taylor rather than the country artists of the time.
Known more previously for hitting high notes, Kathy now goes for the low notes. There is a new depth and meaning and feeling to her voice and there are some extra special versions of songs on here that you wouldn’t have figured that she would go for.
I like this quote from Kathy from The Rolling Stone magazine:
“This album has led me, slowly and unexpectedly, into new nooks and crannies of singing,” Mattea tells Rolling Stone Country. “Songs showed up in random ways… and became part of our musical landscape during regular Thursday jam sessions in my living room. It’s a very eclectic collection, and for me, each song has a very specific reason for being here, showing me some new point of view about singing along the way.”
I think that pretty much sums it all up. This album is a joy to listen to, to mellow out to and I am so pleased that she is back singing. It would have been a great loss to music if she couldn’t sing again. The choices that she has made on this album are spot on. I love the lyrics from “Tell me what you ache for” in particular, especially the line: “If you’re not true to you, then where’s the truth in that.” These are all amazing songs, where the lyrics are special and have real meaning. Kathy sells them like icecream on a hot day.
Listen and learn.