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Kathy StewartKathy Stewart
Album: Almost Home
Label: Treehouse
Tracks: 10

Kathy's a native New Yorker, but hearing her music you wouldn't know it. But that's not because she's made her home in Scotland for the past 30-odd years, even though the beautiful landscapes of the Scottish Borders have clearly provided her with direct inspiration. And although there are occasional Celtic flavourings in her music, which no doubt stem from the deep absorption of experiences of collaborating with celebrated Scottish musicians, you'll find that stylistically she often has leanings towards Americana of the most accessible "transatlantic" kind. If anything, though, these leanings were even more pronounced on Kathy's much earlier album, Celestial Shoes, recorded for Fellside in 1999, and the presence of fine Peebles-based Scottish musicians on Almost Home reinforces this impression and provides a marvellously fresh-toned musical experience for the listener. (However, I can't comment on Kathy's interim, second album, 2009's Hope, Tears And Tambourines, since I never received a copy…)

Kathy's songwriting is developed from the perspective of the territory which she believes most artists occupy, "suspended somewhere between heaven and earth", and Almost Home's ten tracks (which include a co-write with Borders s/s Bob Lawson and a cover of one by Canadian Bruce Murdoch) are inspirational examples of her outlook, simple expressions of faith which sound easily configured yet conceal a subtle management of the messages in her positive philosophical ideals, exploring the credo that the power of love transcends everything, even sorrow and loss.

Arguably the most persuasive combination of the two strands of musical activity (Scottish and Americana) comes on songs such as Leaving (A Ghost's Lament), which contains some gorgeous supporting playing from Iain Fraser (violin) and smallpipes (Hamish Moore). Kathy's piano playing also provides a close and intimate focus for half of the tracks, including the moving gospel-inflected anthem Path Of Gold (dedicated to the Fishwives' Choir), which also features a wonderful electric guitar cameo from Alister Rae. In fact, I do rather feel that the album comes into its own more in its second half, whereas some of the early tracks (24 Days, Zuzu's Petals) don't grab me to the same extent as the later ones (although Did You Ever, which employs vocal and instrumental contributions from Gerda Stevenson and Patsy Seddon, is quite heavenly).

Almost Home is an enjoyable, and not at all "difficult", third album from Kathy, stocked with well-crafted and rewarding songwriting and singing.

David Kidman