Kathryn’s a classically-trained violinist and singer-songwriter-guitarist hailing from Portland, Oregon, and Bones Will Last is her fourth full-length album. It’s also the first of her albums to consciously adopt an equal-handed approach, presenting five songs interspersed among (i.e. alternating with) five instrumental tracks. This, Kathryn says, is the natural result of spending several years cultivating her own style and approach to music whereby the lyrics can reside confidently and naturally in the context of the music. She’s spent a while working as a side-person on other folks’ albums, and thus realises and understands the problem of creating a cohesive sound that works across the forms and genres. In that context, I’m not sure she’s quite achieved her objective here, and although she’s been able to demonstrate her versatility across the board in all the above-mentioned disciplines it doesn’t really add up to a unified album. Having said that, there’s much to admire and enjoy, and I do regret not having experienced Kathryn’s music before – apart, that is, from her contribution to a live set by Dutch folk harmony duo The Lasses which I reviewed last year.
Kathryn’s blessed with a lovely, lyrical singing voice, and there’s a natural sense of flow and style to her performing as well as her writing. She’s also able to make good use of rich-toned backdrops incorporating gorgeous textures such as her octave fiddle either singly or in (presumably multitracked) consort, as on Never Be for instance. Elsewhere she plays guitar, as on the album’s philosophical title track (which is also the subject of a rather quirky little video on YouTube).
It’s not an easy album to get a good overview of, however, due to the tedious download process imposed on the reviewer, which denies any form of continuous listening experience; additionally, there being no accompanying documentation (and no credits on her website either) it’s not clear whether Kathryn is playing all the instruments herself or whether the mandolin, double bass and piano are down to guest musicians. Two of the songs – Thaw and Sweet Chariot – have a piano-led backing which betrays a distinct classical influence, lending a wistful ambience, but for me the most impressive of the songs is Last Day, which deals honestly with the loss of self and the ending of a relationship. The instrumental tracks provide an abundance of stylistic variety too, from the classical/baroque-styled Fugue (also the subject of a curious YouTube video) to the energetic, Scandinavian-influenced Bjorne Stompe (which, unaccountably, seems to run out of steam sooner than anticipated). All the instrumental tracks, in common with the songs, are Kathryn’s own compositions.
In the end, however, the diversity of styles and settings on this album just about works in Kathryn’s favour, I’m glad to say.
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