Kathy Kallick BandKathy Kallick Band
Album: Foxhounds
Label: Live Oak
Tracks: 14

Bluegrass singer and band-leader Kathy has been a key force in contemporary bluegrass for well over three decades now, and although she's proved herself a marvellous songwriter and solo performer in her own right she's also done the genre a great service by forming her own band. After four albums, the west-coast-based Kathy Kallick Band has just recruited bassist Cary Black to join Kathy herself and her colleagues Tom Bekeny (mandolin), Greg Booth (dobro, banjo) and Annie Staninec (fiddle). They still play the tried-and-tested mixture of hot bluegrass and cool originals, and latter category provides the album's opening trio of standout cuts, in my book all virtually guaranteed instant-classic status, from the joyful backporch nostalgia of the title track through the beauteous hurtin' of So Danged Lonesome to I'm Not Your Honey-Baby Now, a contemporary love-song set in the style of an old-timey breakdown.

And so the disc continues, every single cut exhibiting that characteristic sense of sparkling yet relaxed drive and entirely confident instrumental chops, with splendid, almost incidental, vocal harmonies from every member of the band - you can sure tell they're in tune with each other in every sense. In the lead-vocal department, Kathy naturally takes the lion's share and shows her versatility from the lovely folksy reminiscence Longest Day Of The Year and the affectionate ode My Montana Home to the tough pell-mell of Richard Thompson's Tear Stained Letter (a "closet-bluegrass" moment if ever there was!). But Annie also shows herself every bit the equal when she steps up to take the lead on Allison Fisher's Sally Ann and Lily Mae Ledford's Banjo Pickin' Girl (A real live-set showstopper!). Indeed, the whole band has great fun with their tasty licks and solos on these tracks, and Greg makes good capital out of his dobro when he turns the old Flatt & Scruggs number Don't Let Your Deal Go Down into a rip-roaring instrumental showcase to complement the more traditional fiddle'n'banjo square dance tune Roscoe and Tom's fearless Bill Monroe outing Kentucky Mandolin further on into the disc. The latter, with its wonderfully wayward diversions from other band members, might seem a natural finale, but instead the disc fades off into the sunset with Kathy's mex-shuffle-paced In Texas, which was inspired by her daughter Riley's trip to the Lone Star state.

The 49 minutes of Foxhounds passes by all too fast, and it all shows beyond doubt that here Kathy's got herself a crack band that's unafraid to take bluegrass out of its comfort zone and yet remain staunchly true to its tradition.

David Kidman

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