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Kathy KallickKathy Kallick
Album: Cut To The Chase
Label: Live Oak
Tracks: 13

This record came out in 2014, but only recently has a copy come my way. It's not one of those "re-promoted to coincide with a tour" jobs, but it's still definitely worth your belated attention. Musically, Cut To The Chase is very much Kathy, her singing voice as distinctive and flexible as ever, and yet it also signals something of a departure, in that it consists entirely of self-penned work. It's actually the third of Kathy's "not-so-strictly-bluegrass collections of mostly originals", but this one is different in that it's officially tagged as a collection of original story songs.

Here, Kathy responds deeply and honestly to the situations of her protagonists, taking on board as her credo the fact that "something mattered enough to be recounted". She clearly possesses the ability to get right inside her characters' predicaments, and voices their thoughts with genuine insight, all the while taking a mature and considered approach to the choice of musical idiom in which to set them. She skips around these idioms, beginning by chugging vibrantly through a bluegrass-style soundscape on Tryin' So Hard To Get To You then taking on the spirit of reassurance (Feet On The Ground), jittery pop-pourri (Cut To The Chase), and classic Americana-country in the shape of a Nanci Griffith-style railroad-hobo's life-story (Not As Lonesome As Me). Then there's the lilting accordion-and-mandolin-backed waltzery of The Night The Boat Capsized (its narrative inspired by a magazine photo), which complements the inspiring outcome of Persephone's Dream. Last but certainly not least, there's a pair of gorgeous, if plaintive romantic conundrums (When and Once Upon, the latter sporting a particularly delicious dobro-and-pedal-steel exchange that echoes the vocal duet between Kathy and Richard Brandenburg). The Rustler's Girl is a kind of "broken token"-themed sequel to Kathy's earlier song Rustler's Moon, while the album signs off with a creatively-country update-cum-refashioning of the first story song Kathy ever recorded, Ellie (a classic from her Good Ol' Persons days).

For this project, Kathy's fortunate to have enjoyed a goodly measure of practical assistance from master songsmith Clive Gregson, whose own writing, and extensive catalogue, has clearly been of much inspiration to her. Clive provided melodies for three of the songs on this CD - Cut To The Chase, Time Traveler's Wife and Franco's Spain - and yet, Kathy says, her initial response to these was shock, in that they were nothing like what she expected. She goes on to say that this was precisely why she wanted to collaborate with Clive. And yet, while these songs can be heard to contain resonances of Clive's all-round musical sensibilities, they don't sound like Gregsongs; the finest of the three, Franco's Spain, is a lyrically-expressed tale of adolescent naivety that more recalls Joni Mitchell or Neil Young. As well as playing guitar on those three co-written songs, Clive also contributes significantly to another disc highlight, the CD's self-styled "happy song", the rockabilly-pop-flavoured Same Ol' Song.

The instrumental backdrops are brilliantly played - as you'd expect from Kathy's crew of guest musicians, including the members of her own band (Annie Staninec, Greg Booth, Tom Bekeny and Cary Black), as well as John Reischman (mandolin), Sally Van Meter (Weissenborn guitar), Bobby Black (pedal steel), Molly Tuttle (guitar) and Bill Evans (banjo)… phew! … But another incidental glory of this disc is that it's replete with intelligent and cannily coordinated little touches of scoring that often reflect elements within the stories being told. The overriding sensation is that of a natural yet at the same time carefully woven patchwork of stylistic elements, unified by the power of Kathy's storytelling.

All told, this is an extremely impressive disc, on which Kathy adds more than just another string to her songwriting bow.

David Kidman