Kathy Kallick Band’s new bluegrass album looks back
By Elly Schmidt-Hopper
OAKLAND — Kathy Kallick, leader of the eponymous Kathy Kallick Band, has been playing bluegrass in the Bay Area since 1975. Her band just released a new album called “Time,” and many of the songs reflect on Kallick’s life and experiences during decades in the music business.
Over the years, Kallick has written more than 100 original songs and released 17 albums, but her voice still bubbles with excitement when she talks about the music. It’s as if the young woman from Chicago, who moved to San Francisco and was swept away by the bluegrass scene, is just right below the surface.
Kallick remembers the first time she saw a bluegrass band play live and how forceful the impact was on her.
“Bluegrass was this big visceral exciting ensemble thing, it was this powerful thing that came off the stage at you,” Kallick said. “And the songs were interesting and really compelling, you know, they were story songs. And the singing I loved. The singing was just so full of feeling and really soulful.”
Kallick started her first band in 1975 and began writing her own songs, a taboo in bluegrass. Many musicians at the time felt that straying from traditional lyrics and musical interpretations was an unnecessary departure from the standard set by Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass. It was especially controversial for a woman.
It has been Kallick’s goal to put women’s voices and experiences in music traditionally sung and written by men.
This female perspective can even be subversive, she says. One of her songs, “Walkin’ in My Shoes,” was inspired by a friend’s struggles with domestic violence. The song spent a year at the top of the national bluegrass charts, and even old-school DJs related to the feminist message without quite realizing it.
A lot has changed in the industry in the past three decades, and “Time” attempts to chart that progression. Kallick wrote the song “Fare Thee Well” as a sweet way to end a set, but says that the result for many listeners is unintentionally sad. She sings in a keening voice; “Think on the best of all our times/The gladdest moments we shared/ Hold dear the favorite funny lines/The boldest truths we may have bared.”
The title track, also called “Time,” has a gritty fiddle intro that Kallick wrote for her 26-year-old fiddle player, Annie Staninec. Kallick says the song is about the interesting feeling of aging, and how every stage of her life is still relevant today. The song ends: “When all is said and done there’s just no way to run from time, time, time.”
The Kathy Kallick Band, in its current form, has Tom Bekeny on the mandolin, Greg Booth on the dobro, Sharon Gilchrist on the bass (Dan Booth is on the album) and Staninec on the fiddle. Kallick and Bekeny have been playing together since 1996, but she says that even someone new to the band can play based on shared knowledge.
“The great thing about bluegrass is that you come together, people that have never met, and there’s this common vocabulary of songs, so you can play instantly,” Kallick said. “And that’s what’s happened. You can say ‘Well what do you know, what do you know?’ and you can play.”
A frequently discussed issue in the world of bluegrass is the lack of women who have made their mark on the genre over the years. While such award winners as Kristen Scott Benson, Dale Ann Bradley, and Rhonda Vincent have all proven their talents time and time again, and projects like the Daughters of Bluegrass albums have begun to shine a brighter light on women’s contributions, bluegrass music is still largely dominated by men, with relatively few women finding success leading their own bands. San Francisco-based Kathy Kallick is one lesser-known artist who certainly breaks that mold.
Kallick, who founded her first band in 1975, recently released her 17th album. Time, out now on Live Oak Records, is a mixture of originals and time-honored tunes, rendered in an enjoyable, mostly traditional style. Kallick wrote four of the album’s fourteen songs, including the title track, a melodic, country-influenced piece which offers musings on the passage of time. The singer may no longer be young, but “the beauty of an oak stands up against the rose.” Fare Thee Well has a pleasing, old-time country feel, fitting for Kallick’s conception of the song as a new tune for the Carter Family to record. Lulu and Jack is a sweet Old West tale which shares the story of a couple whose love endures the husband’s pioneering spirit.
While Kallick’s originals have an old-time sound to them, several other tunes reflect the band’s bluegrass influences. Their version of Dark Hollow has nice banjo and fiddle work throughout, and an additional verse pulled from the Clarence Ashley tune Dark Holler Blues which isn’t usually included in bluegrass recordings of this song, but fits well. Bassist Dan Booth (now with Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen) takes the lead on an excellent version of the Delmore Brothers’ I’m Lonesome Without You, complete with Cajun fiddle and solid instrumental solos. Booth’s lead vocals can also be found on Thinkin’ of You, a straightforward ‘old homeplace’ tune written and originally recorded by early California bluegrass duo Vern and Ray. The Bill Monroe Gospel number Lord Protect My Soul is one of the album’s standout tracks, with a great traditional sound and nice four-part harmony.
Several band members get to show off their musical talent on the album’s instrumentals. Old Red Mandolin, an original by mandolin player Tom Bekeny is an uptempo tribute to Frank Wakefield, while dobro and banjo player Greg Booth’s Shuckin’ the Acorns features an interesting dobro/fiddle opening. Fans of straight-ahead, traditional style instrumentals will enjoy Annie Staninec’s fiddling on North Carolina Breakdown.
For more information on the Kathy Kallick Band, visit the group’s website at www.kathykallick.com, where audio samples from Time are available. The album can be purchased from CDBaby, Amazon, and County Sales.
With “Time” as both a title song and a theme for this latest album, Kathy Kallick and her band have produced an inspiring collection of precise instrumentals, thought-provoking original songs, and an affirming nod to the bluegrass roots they all share. Time passes for everyone, but time seems to have made this band better and better. Kathy Kallick and her band draw deeply from the traditional bluegrass well, but they add a richness of taste and texture that makes a compelling presentation.
Kathy Kallick has a long history of releasing enormously satisfying CDs of California bluegrass, and this newest offering is no exception. Indeed, this splendid collection of songs and tunes may well be her best. Kathy has always leaned heavily into traditional Monroe-style bluegrass while, at the same time, bringing something fresh and modern sounding to the genre. This CD demonstrates perfectly that balanced sensibility. There are a couple other factors that contribute to the success of this recording. One is that voice. Part country, part bluegrass, part something entirely her own. She simply has one of the most convincing and emotionally expressive voices in bluegrass music today. The other piece is to note her ability to assemble a kick ass band! She always had capable band mates to support the music but this particular version of “the band” is the best to date. Each player is a master of his or her respective instruments. Folks, this is a top-notch band with a top-notch singer. If you love modern bluegrass steeped in tradition, you’re gonna love this one. I know I do.
I’ve never understood why jazzers don’t dig this stuff, as the chops and improv skills by Kallick and the supporting team are most impressive. There are a few instrumentals like “Old Red Mandolin” and “Shuckin’ the Acorns” that would blow Bill Frisell and his cohorts off the stage anytime, while Kallick’s own tunes like “Time” and “Lulu and Jack” have some supercharged rhythm and interplay. Her voice is earthy and next door neighbor friendly, and the harmonies feel like a balm to your soul. Good time music and playing for all times.
The follow-up recording to the excellent Between the Hollow and the High-Rise, Time continues Kathy Kallick’s tradition of releasing only the finest quality of music. Her voice is a beautiful thing, and that is in evidence throughout. The Kallick Band has for years been so solid as a live act, and that mastery is fully captured on this album, keeping listeners entertained for its full fifty minutes. Highly recommended.
Kathy Kallick, an esteemed veteran of the thriving West Coast bluegrass community, shines on her 17th album, not only as a singer and songwriter but also as a bandleader as well. Time is very much an ensemble project, with Kallick and her four bandmates all making major contributions to these 14 cuts as pickers and writers, as well as lead and harmony singers. Kallick & Co. keep one foot firmly and tastefully anchored in tradition. Included here are stirring covers of a handful of bluegrass chestnuts, but the newer material more than holds its own when juxtaposed with the classics. On their immensely soulful duet rendition of the traditional “Long Time Travelin’,” Kallick and fiddler/vocalist Annie Staninec serve up shared lead and harmony vocals that are nearly magical in their beauty and intensity.
Time ~ a Timeless recording that suits me to a T! I heard a record producer say once that the test of a recording’s mettle was the reaction it could generate from a child. In this case, I am in total agreement with my 2-year-old nephew Mitchell who asks his mother for “Kathy Kallick – again” several times a day. His pronunciation may not be the best, but his taste certainly is — and there is something very interesting about a toddler singing a refrain of “Time, time, time.” There are many great elements to this recording: choice of material which includes spot-on classics and remarkable originals, simple and beautiful packaging, and inspired performances. My overall remaining impression is the brilliance of the sequencing; listening to this recording from beginning to end is a wonderful journey through stories and sounds that are as delightful as they are provocative.
Kathy Kallick and her band newest album, Time, is timeless. It is a great collection of tunes and songs to be enjoyed for all time.
A first class album, with superb musicianship throughout! The quality of this band is excellent and a good example for aspiring bands to follow. Throughout these fourteen tracks there are some real gems, some great vocal arrangements, and some seriously skillful playing from all concerned. Kathy leads from the front, just as you would expect from a seasoned artist with 17 albums to her credit. The Kathy Kallick Band provide a first-class listening experience for anyone interested in the traditions of bluegrass music, and I would be very pleased if she (and the band) were rewarded during this coming IBMA awards show later in the year.