KATHY KALLICK: Cut To The Chase (Live Oak Records)
From the opening notes of “Tryin’ So Hard to Get to You”, there’s no doubt that you’re listening to a bluegrass album. There’s plenty of pedal steel, upright bass, fiddle and mandolin in the mix.
Tradition isn’t a bad thing, though. In this case, it provides a comfortable base on which Kallick builds a solid album that doesn’t rely on the cliches of the genre. Rather than being a lament on things lost, the album’s title track is an upbeat, perky number that looks at change with a solid mandolin riff for a chorus. “Seattle’s never gonna be the place it used to be” Kallick sings. “We never talk about that time / we put it on a shelf”, while a dog barks in the background.
The album shifts tempo regularly, which means there’s something here for every mood. Kallick’s reputation as a songwriter is well established and that’s demonstrated in fine form here. Every song tells a story, and the lyrics exhibit a complexity that’s missing from many bluegrass-sounding albums. Her voice pairs nicely with the tone of the mandolin playing.
If I get to spend the few days in a cabin in the woods that I’m hoping for in the next couple of weeks, I’ll be packing a mandolin and this album. My playing won’t be nearly up to the standards on Cut to the Chase (and I certainly won’t be singing), but this is the kind of album that showcases what modern bluegrass should be: recognizing the past, but with a contemporary lyrical twist. Highly recommended.
Story songs have a long history in bluegrass and other forms of traditional music. From murder ballads to train songs, from lost love to the Civil War, bluegrassers love to tell and hear a good story. On Kathy Kallick’s latest release, Cut to the Chase, she presents listeners with thirteen story songs, all from her own pen.
The songs include Kallick’s versions of fairy tales and myths, days in the lives of certain characters, and even a retelling of a popular novel. Kallick has long been a fixture in the west coast bluegrass scene, and the music here is reflective of that, utilizing all the standard bluegrass instruments but throwing in a folk/Americana vibe on the majority of the songs. For those who are most familiar with the Kathy Kallick Band’s grassier sound, Cut to the Chase might come as a surprise, but those who enjoy the “edge of bluegrass” should certainly find something to like.
One of the most intriguing songs is The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is Kallick’s version of Audrey Niffenegger’s popular novel of the same name. Those familiar with the novel will likely understand the story behind the song better (in brief, a woman whose husband travels through time without warning), but even those who haven’t read it should be able to identify with the dueling emotions of love and uncertainty expressed in the lyrics.
This song is one of three that were co-written by Kallick and Clive Gregson. The title track, a bouncy number with a ’90s folk-pop groove, is another. It finds the narrator struggling through a terrible date, and its story is both humorous and familiar. The third collaboration is Franco’s Spain, a weary, mandolin-guided reminiscence on youth and traveling through mid-20th century Spain.
The Rustler’s Girl is a companion to Kallick’s previous song Rustler’s Moon, and tells of a woman who once loved a wandering rustler but chose family and home over him. It’s a well-written number, with an old west, cowboy song feel. Kallick describes Not as Lonesome as Me, the tale of a man with an old soul and a lonesome destiny as a cowboy/hobo song, and it does have some of that same feel, as well. The pedal steel, courtesy of Bobby Black, is a nice addition.
Same Old Song takes a novel approach, capturing a conversation between two would-be lovers, including the “he said” and “she said.” It’s a clever love story with a happy ending, a fun, cheerful sound, and the appearance of John Reischman on the mandonator. Tryin’ So Hard to Get to You is a love story, as well, but a one-sided one. This bluesy number finds the singer trying to realize why so many obstacles are keeping her from the one she loves.
One of the album’s highlights – as well as its grassiest track – is the closing song, Ellie. Kallick originally recorded this song with the Good Ol’ Persons in the early 1980s. Here, it’s a gentle, melancholy number about a young woman who learned that lying to her mother wasn’t as easy on her soul as she might have hoped.
Kallick handles the lead vocals and plays guitar throughout the album, but is also joined by a whole host of other musicians. In addition to her regular band members Annie Staninec (fiddle), Tom Bekeny (mandolin), Greg Booth (dobro and banjo), and Cary Black (bass), Cut to the Chase also features Sylvia Herold (guitar), Cindy Browne (bass), Molly Tuttle (guitar), and Sally Van Meter (Weissenborn guitar), among others.
For more information on Kallick, visit her website at www.kathykallick.com. Her new album is available from a variety of music retailers.
The saying “Cut to the chase”—meaning “Get to the important thing right now”—goes back to the early days of motion pictures. Movie makers quickly learned that the public didn’t want to sit through lengthy encounters or explanatory titles. Whether it was a scrambling Keystone Cops laugh riot or a thrilling cowboy pursuit, audiences wanted the film to “cut to the chase.” It’s a fitting title for California-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Kathy Kallick’s new album. Travel—including a chase or two—is a predominate theme. And each of the 13 original songs here (ten written solely by Kallick, three in collaboration with Clive Gregson) gets right to the important things: love, longings, desires, and choices in life choices, both good and bad.
The opening track, the high-lonesome “Tryin’ So Hard To Get To You,” finds the singer (spoiler alert) struggling in an almost pathetically funny attempt to join her beloved while gradually realizing that the frustrating delays are a blessing because the relationship is actually dysfunctional, unhappy, and pointless. The pursuit in the title-track “Cut To The Chase” takes place mostly within the close confines of a bar or club, but the journey is equally intense and revealing. The deceptively pretty waltz-time “The Night The Boat Capsized” launches a symbolic but wistful ocean voyage. Other titles transport the listener, in spirit at least, to ancient Greece (“Persephone’s Dream”), a twentieth century European dictatorship (“Franco’s Spain”), and maybe wryly to other dimensions (“The Time Traveler’s Wife”).
Kallick has a fine and versatile voice here: lilting, ornamented, or gutsy as the material requires. The regular members of her band (Annie Staninec, fiddle; Greg Booth, mandolin; Tom Bekeny, mandolin; Cary Black, acoustic bass) do their usual excellent job on several tracks. The album also features Kallick’s studio reunions with two members of the well-recalled Good Ol’ Persons band, John Reischman (mandolin) and Sally Van Meter (Weissenborn slide guitar). Banjoist Bill Evans and a host of other fine musicians are also here, fine fellow travelers all.
This is not exactly my-old-mountain-home or little-log-cabin-in-the-lane bluegrass song territory, and it’s not casually strolled. But Kallick’s fans will be hugely rewarded by her thoughtful and often powerful lyrics and music. You might be lulled at first by the easy country sway of “Same Ol’ Song” and then get hit by what that same old song really means. The concluding number, “Ellie,” is especially poignant because of its truths on how a life’s deceptions start in childhood and can grow from very loving intentions. If the album is a bit of a departure for this accomplished performer, it’s a worthwhile journey and Kallick cuts to the chase on every cut. (http://www.kathykallick.com)
More than a decade before the arrival on the scene in the late 1980s of the teenaged wunderkind Alison Krauss, a band called The Good Ol’ Persons emerged from California and proved that not only was it okay for bluegrass and country bands to have more than one “girl singer,” but that a band composed of all or mostly women could write, perform and draw crowds as well as the guys could. With her longtime friend Laurie Lewis, it was Kathy Kallick who helped blaze the trail and open doors for Krauss and other sterling female talents to pass through. Nearly four decades later, with Cut To The Chase, Kallick demonstrates convincingly that not only are her bluegrass chops still in good working order, but she’s still among the more distinctive and adventurous talents in what’s come to be known as the “Americana” format.
She’s backed up by her current Kathy Kallick Band (Annie Staninec, fiddle; Greg Booth, banjo and Dobro; Tom Bekeny, mandolin; and Cary Black, bass), and the roster of guests includes notable GOP’s alums Sally Van Meter and John Reischman, as well as guitarist Clive Gregson, with whom Kallick wrote three of the thirteen cuts (and the other ten all on her own). Co-producing with Tom Size, the material and arrangements highlight Kallick’s keen ability to tell a good story. “Same Old Song” revolves cleverly around the clichés that seem to mark every budding romance, “The Night The Boat Capsized” travels from vulnerability and sheer terror to survival and confidence, and “The Rustler’s Girl” is something of a modern version, set out on the range, of the old “Black Jack Davy” ballads.
It’s on the collaborations with Gregson, though, where Kallick really stretches out. “Franco’s Spain” is the tale of an American ingénue who learns that history takes place regardless of who’s around to watch, but “all the discos let us in for free.” “The Time Traveler’s Wife” elicits the seeming time/space distortion of wondering whether or not you’re in love or out of it. The album’s title track expresses the everywoman’s dream of telling the date from Hell to “get the Hell away from me.” It’s daring writing for someone who’s been in bluegrass for 40 years, but she carries it off well. An intriguing instrumental aspect to the album is the pairing of Booth’s Dobro with Bobby Black’s pedal steel guitar, producing a sound with it’s own brand of lonesome. Kathy Kallick has never been one to stand pat and do the same old thing, and it’s a big reason for the respect she’s garnered for so long.
KATHY KALLICK BAND:
Between the Hollow & the High-Rise (Live Oak Records)
This CD has all the good things in life. Original songs with a ‘50s feel, new life given to traditional songs, and a fervor & enthusiasm that comes through all songs. This project is thoroughly enjoyable. It is a shame that it is only 47 minutes; when it was completed, I had to hit the play button again. On a scale of 1 to 10, this project was a definite 12!!
Between the Hollow and the High-Rise (the title reflects a recurring theme in Kallick’s originals) opens with “Where Is My Little Cabin Home,” the introspective and compelling lament of an uneasy urban dweller without an old homeplace to seek refuge and renewal. Kallick’s delightful hunor shines through on “My House” (… shame it ain’t perfect/but it’s home) and her politically-barbed update of “White House Blues.” Thrown in for good measure are spirited reprisals of Carter Stanley’s “Lonesome Night,” Josh Graves’ “Come Walk With Me,” and the gospel ode, “There’s A Higher Power.” Also featured are several fine instrumentals on which Kallick, Tom Bekeny, Dan Booth, Greg Booth, and Annie Staninec showcase their formidable instrumental prowess.
Oh, what a musical web they weave … Kathy Kallick has been a top-echelon bluegrass artist since the mid-1970s. Her talented band fashions hot instrumentation and tight harmonies. Between the Hollow and the High-Rise has terrific originals and stellar covers, and is highly entertaining.
Kathy Kallick never disappoints. Her voice conveys such warmth that it fair melts even the most stridently traditional bluegrass purist. For more years than many of us have been listening to the music, Kallick has not only been blazing a trail for females wanting to sing harmony-rich bluegrass but has been leading some of the strongest outfits the west coast has experienced. Kathy Kallick and her current band play bluegrass with a distinctive and fresh flavour. There is a bit of blues in a couple places, a touch of swing in others, and a smidgeon of folk mixed throughout. Put some drive behind all that, and you’ve got a winning bluegrass album.
Every song has unique characteristics and could exist as a single. This album is one of the best bluegrass in active business and the Kathy Kallick Band is better than ever before. West Coast Bluegrass, with all kinds of diversity, yet very consistent with the still-beautiful voice of Kathy Kallick.
Kathy’s current band continues the west coast tradition of meaningful songs with downhome musicality. Kathy has written several of the songs, and her perceptions and musings are filled with a delightful wistfulness and humor. Whether you live in a holler or a high-rise, you will not find a more balanced and exciting band than this one!
One heck of an entertaining and original album! Has that down home sound and feel. It’s comfortable and friendly. The musicians are tight and energetic which keeps the album hopping from beginning to end. Now matter how you cut it, this is a great album! I would have to say this is their finest work to date.
Great stuff! A nice mix of Kathy Kallick songs, lesser-known bluegrass gems, and instrumentals/songs from her bandmates. Kallick is in fine voice throughout, more than ably assisted by her first-rate band. Special kudos to Greg Booth, whose reso playing is stellar, and Annie Staninec, who is brilliant on fiddle throughout. Six of the fourteen tracks are Kallick originals, and all are strong. Between the Hollow and the High Rise is a fabulous recording, one that will bring pleasure to anyone who enjoys good songs, and quality picking and singing.
A selection of material that should leave most any fan of traditional bluegrass yearning for more. The album features a great mix of well-written, heartfelt originals, arranged with some subtle twists and turns that are sure to please a mindful ear. The Kathy Kallick Band plays hard-drivin’ traditional bluegrass that harkens back to the dirt-floor rural up bringing of those who laid the music’s foundation long ago. And make no mistake they do a great job of it on Between The Hollow And The High-Rise.
Former Chicagoan Kathy Kallick has been a leading light in California bluegrass since the mid-’70s, mixing Bill Monroe’s traditional sounds with nicely administered dollops of folk, blues, and even jazz, as required. She yearns for her country place on “Where Is Little Cabin Home” while she and her band play around with the Louvin’s “There’s A Higher Power.” Her killer dobro player, Greg Booth, does quite a job adapting the old Bob Wills instrumental “Panhandle Rag,” but Kallick’s own “Whistle Stop Town” is the keeper.
THE KATHY KALLICK BAND in concert
Kathy’s infectious smile and music, whether original or song choices, anchor the band. All of them contribute both lead and harmony vocals in different configurations, and each of the band members led at least one song. This is special, for someone so well known as Kathy in the bluegrass world, to share the stage with her bandmates so easily for a seamless and exciting show. The resulting variety with so many instruments and singers to feature kept the show lively.
Kathy Kallick and her band put on a terrific show at the May 1, 2010, RBA concert to a very large and appreciative audience. Kathy has had many great bands over the years, and this one surely is one of her best line-ups.
Kathy performed many of her excellent original songs, including “My House,” cleverly arranged with a growling, whimsical dobro lead and a very nice bass solo, and “Where is My Little Cabin Home,” which was sprightly and humorous featuring Dan and Tom’s great harmonizing with Kathy. “The Messenger” was very moving, sung by Kathy and Dan.
Kathy and Dan also sang a haunting duet version of “Close By” with a wonderful bluesy groove on the dobro. Tom did a fine job singing lead on the Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper classic, “Come Walk with Me,” ably assisted by Kathy and Dan and a nifty banjo solo by Greg. Dan, with Kathy and Greg, sang a chilling version of “Lonesome Night,” with some lonesome fiddling by Annie, and Dan also did a fine job of singing lead on Hoyt Axton’s “Evangelina,” again with Kathy and Greg singing harmony. Instrumentally the band was very hot: “Panhandle Rag” featured hot dobro leads, swingy mandolin solos, jazzy fiddle, and a bass solo. “Cindy” featured driving hoedown fiddle with some wild Scotty Stoneman licks thrown in to spice it up, and some fine banjo and mandolin.
Kathy lays down a strong rhythmic foundation with her guitar, and Dan’s bass-playing is as solid as bedrock under a freight train. Tom’s mandolin playing is crisp, innovative and always tasteful. Greg plays traditional, yet creative banjo with a bit of melodic style sprinkled in at the right time, and Annie’s fiddle playing has matured immensely—she can still play wild hot solos, but has now learned to play beautiful fills and haunting solos as well. Kathy does a great job as MC, and the band seems to have a lot of fun playing together.
The audience was very enthusiastic, and many extremely positive comments were overheard during the intermission and at the end of what was a great show by Kathy and her band.