Love Song Nineteen
“LOVE SONG NINETEEN”: MOUNTAIN MEADOWS AND COUNTRY RIVERS
Kathy’s latest album is in the key of bluebilly. (You can look elsewhere on the page for a succinct definition of bluebilly music.) 14 new songs, sung in her strongest voice yet, a voice for mountain meadows and country rivers, are also her best yet. And what a band, THE ROCKY RIVER RANGERS;
JAMES KEE on mandolin and acoustic guitar and backing and duet vocals. James recently played the Grand Ole Opry with Stuart Duncan, but he still talks to us mortals. Leads the Hamilton County Ramblers.
JOHN BOULWARE on fiddle and backing vocals. John is a three-time Tennessee bluegrass fiddle champion. He also in the Ramblers.
JO WHITAKER on drums. Jo, a longtime member of Kathy’s rhythm sections, also plays in jazz, pop and prog rock bands.
EDDIE GWALTNEY on bass and acoustic guitar and backing vocals. Eddie is the other half of those rhythm sections and plays anything we ask him to.
TARBELL PATTEN on electric guitar. Tarbell also leads Dark Horse Five and he and Kathy play together in Zammarin at St. Timothy’s church.
JOSH HIXSON on double-bass. John plays with James and John in the Hamilton County Ramblers.
With these boys and Kathy’s voice and songs, we couldn’t miss. We didn’t. We hope you don’t miss “Love Song Nineteen.” Music, good music, offers a lovely, temporary redemption. As one of the songs puts it:
Steppin’ and dancin’ away the deep night,
the singer sang and dogs did bark.
By your shoulder, a crack lets out the light,
but the big-shoe dancin’ holds back the dark.
So step and stomp until the first light -
cast long shadows wall deep and stark.
Your dancin’ and playin’ is quite a sight.
Save room for the light, hold back the dark.
“Love Song Nineteen” has lots of light and just enough dark. Get a piece of this joy.
Flawed Words and Stubborn Sounds
This record had its crisis when, after most of the recording was done, the Singer and I sat down and listened to a test sequence of rough mixes of all the songs. By the time we got to the third or fourth cut, we knew we had trouble and trouble of the most critical kind – the singing was not up to the melodies the Singer had written, as those melodies, encumbered by my lyrics, developed during the recording. The songs themselves told us this. It was an uncertain moment, but it was only a moment, for we quickly agreed that the Singer would recut all but one of the vocals.
Folks, I got to tell you, the girl came through with the courageous and tough-minded performances that you hear on this album. What was wrong with the old vocals? They were too pretty. That is to say, they were not flawed and stubborn enough to do justice to the tunes we’d written. We now have a record that is truer to Wallace Stevens’s description of useful art, which you can find in the quote on the inner sleeve. In other words, we’re flawed and stubborn and proud of it.
Now, a few words about each of these imperfect pieces:
“I Thought There’d Always Be Roses” - Did I say that this is not a jazz album? If I didn’t, now you know. Following an old and honorable tradition, this tune takes our disappointed lover from despair to perhaps redeeming anger. And you have to believe that her heel of a beau deserves it.
“The Time Before You” – The love-besotted show up more than a few times in this record. If you’ve been really gob-smacked by your baby, you can get shaken up temporally, too.
“The Next Pew” – The Singer and I have different ideas about the nature of the relationship driving this song, and also about what’s being celebrated in the last phrase of the bridge. Ah, that bridge. I thought the greatest performances of
“Bringing in the Sheaves” I would ever hear were in the morning assembly of a boys’ military school, when five hundred cauldrons of testosterone almost shouted it out. I was wrong. The Singer, with wonderful help from Shelia Morris, sets a new standard.
“The Staunton Station (What Mama Said)” – Here’s another ancient tale, very movingly told. Some of the band members, including the Singer, would cry when playing this, sometimes messing up good takes. It’s the reference to “Mama and Papa’s old place” (emphasis supplied) that gets me.
“The White County Blackout (Shorty Loftis’s Song)” – We were so lucky to have Tarbell (who, by no measure, is short) to take the lead here or the song might not have made it. The more times you hear it, the more complex and the more dismaying the story becomes. Shorty doesn’t seem to get it, though.
“Moonlight on the Neon” – During the mixing of this song, Fred, our wizard of an engineer, asked if moonlight could, indeed, wash on neon. I didn’t answer him. Maybe I just totally made it up. This song is as much about the act of remembering as the act remembered, but the Singer balances all that and convinces you that it is a love song, which, among other things, it is.
“I Will Run With You” – Oh, new love in the fresh springtime! We need Keats to do it right, but we stole part of a line from him (from the Autumn ode) and did our best. That’s the long, short and tall of it.
“Pilgrim by the River” – Here’s another tune that the Singer and I have different ideas about what’s going on. Hers, as you might expect, is healthier than mine. You can build your own back-story and the melody will still work.
“You’re Gonna Follow Me” - If I were this lady’s gallant, I would rein in my roving eye real quick.
“The Ballad of Tricia Stone” – This is both an hommage to, and a perversion of, the traditional folk ballad. The matter-of-fact eruption, in the second verse, of the narrator’s story into the tale she’s telling somehow brings Tricia’s story into a better focus. The vocal harmonies, suggesting other voices and stories, come in at just the right time.
“Love Like a Light” – Here’s another tune that’s open to more than one meaning. It is clear, however, that if the home you seek has love as its light, then you’d better scurry on there.
“Comin’ ‘Round Corners” – “Sometimes it goes sun-rising right.”
Yeah, sometimes it does, but you can’t forget what the prodigal in “The Staunton Station” calls “time’s unyielding sanction.” O.K, you can forget it often enough to enjoy much of this life and what you might find just comin’ ‘round corners.
“The Curve of the Carolina Coast” – A case can be made that this album really ended with the “Corners” tune. I think it did, but this little piece about a little time at peace makes a nice coda. Also, this is the one lead vocal that the Singer didn’t have to recut. Let’s say it’s about a time out of time and let it go, in the same way that the song ends: unresolved.
Our thanks must be given to all the fine musicians who played on this record – Jo, Eddie, Gordy, Steven, Tarbell, Alex, David, Fred, Steve and Shelia.. You’re the ones who made it clear the songs were better than we thought.
And thanks to Fred Schendel and Steve Babb at Sound Resources for the sound they gave us and for their sound judgments. We are especially indebted to Fred for his musical contributions and his engineering skills unsurpassed.
This record is for the fifteen young people who call us Mims and Da.
- The Executive Producer
Nothing I'll Ever Miss
Kathy Tugman calls her music "alternative pop," meaning that it is based in a variety of popular styles (pop, rock, country, folk, ballads and story songs) but is unified through an emphasis on the importance of memory and external and internal landscapes in defining who we are, who we love, what we hope to be. The songs are tightly crafted but are open to a variety of musics and a range of influences, never forgetting that the soul is moved when the body is, too. The songs are built around Kathy's strong and varied vocal style, grounded on the rhythm section and driven by guitar on many tracks, piano on others. This is intelligent music that always wants to swing.
The Long Refrain
On Kathy's "valentine for all y'all old friends," released in December 1999, she shares billing with her band. That group, called DaHouse Band after the studio where the album was recorded, features Eddie Gwaltney on many instruments (so many that even the Executive Producer lost count) and backing vocals and Jo Whitaker on drums and other forcibly struck surfaces. (Jo was also the engineer for the record. See, also, the flattering portraits of these fellows that we were forced to include elsewhere on this website.) Kathy sings lead on all the songs and plays rhythm guitar and piano.
The idea behind the new album and its 12 original songs was to get a simpler sound, one more rooted in the rhythm section of a pop band than, as on Kathy's earlier work, the sound of piano vocals. "These songs were built from the bass and drums up, rather than from the vocals down," Kathy says, "and, as the recording of the album went along, it became clear that Jo and Eddie should get credit for what we were doing."
The Long Refrain is also more secular than Kathy's previous work, although this is not to say that the songs do not have a spiritual element. The songs cover an emotional landscape from love songs (happy, sad and strange) to stories about friends and family, including, along the way, a song about a vanished railroad and the pleasures of riding in red cars. The title song is a tribute to all singers who take the risks necessary to make their songs and to have those songs heard.
Robin on the Frost
Although seven years passed between this album and Kathy's last, the wait was certainly worth it. Kathy and the David Walters Quartet have been playing regularly since the release of their last album, Almost Off the Dial, in 2004. That togetherness allows the band to tackle this set of tunes, which range in style from jazz standards to blues to familiar and not-so-familiar pop tunes, giving all of the music that something that makes it jazz. Check out the cooking remakes of Carol King’s “I Feel the Earth Move” and the Beatles’ “Things We Said Today.” Then there is the heartbreaking beauty of great ballads like “My Foolish Heart” and “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” The band swings hard through “I Love Being Here With You” and then waltzes and swings “There Will Never Be Another You.”
Clicking nicely with those wonderful songs are six originals that themselves touch on swing, Latin, blues, the ballad and straight-ahead pop.
Thematically, the album traces what Paul Simon once called “the arc of a love affair,” moving from the excitement of love found, to the salad days of a relationship, to the dawning realization that the affair may be ending, to regret and woe at lost love, to a final acceptance of the end, and even gratitude for what was had and is now lost. This last comes through in a touching revival of a Ray Davies’ tune from the Sixties – “Days.”
Almost Off the Dial
Kathy Tugman proves that it is possible for new songs to enter the canon of standards. Backed by the swinging, tasteful grooves of the David Walters Trio, Kathy delivers knock-out performances of ten fine tunes, all constructed on the architecture of jazz standards but with a fresh, modern take. From bassa to blues to ballads and not forgetting the samba, Kathy and the Trio make the case for the continuing relevance and viability of the marriage of intelligence and swing. In a culture distracted from anything but the present, this record shows that the timeless can also be the current.
This is Kathy's seventh album and is a natural development in her career. She can now add the laurel of "jazz singer" to that of pop artist. David Walters, on piano, displays a lyrical touch that is always perceptive and sometimes heartbreakingly fine. The rhythm section of Gordy Nichol on bass and Jo Whitaker on drums is all any fan of the great jazz trios could want: thoughtful and supportive, but always swinging. The Trio has been together for a long time and it shows.
Maybe today jazz can be heard only "almost off the dial." This record shows that we should be listening harder and, if we do, more of us will hear.
Shadow on the Arch
Kathy's powerful and diverse album from 1997 shares with her 1999 release, The Long Refrain, the skills of Jo Whitaker and Eddie Gwaltney (soon to earn fame as DaHouse Band), along with several other musicians, in creating an album of secular and spiritual songs that revolve around the importance of family, lovers, faith and memory. Kathy's voice is the focus of this recording, but she employs it in the service of a number of styles.
The piano/vocal ballads, over which Kathy's earliest fans have been known to weep, are well represented on this album, and these songs contain the strongest statements of Kathy's trust in the power of the spirit. Strong hints of what was to come in The Long Refrain are also here in love songs (including one set in the image of an Ireland of the heart) and stories of family members, of generations before and after Kathy's own. Of course, there is a song about fishing on a long ago summer day, plus an R&B tune about the pleasures of finding your match, and, on top of that, a bluegrass number, very ably brought in by the renowned and freely self-promoting fiddler Fletcher Bright and his heartbreakingly good band. ("Sounds like my record collection," the Executive Producer enthused to his intimates.) As with the 1999 album, all of the songs on "Shadow"are originals except for the sonic bookmarks of the ancient folk song ,"The Ash Grove," and its mirror image hymn, "Let All Things Now Living."
After a number of years, Shadow on the Arch continues to win fans for Kathy, and the songs have shown that they have the staying power of art that touches on the true.
With You Always / Clear Skies
Kathy's first recording project, With You Always, was made in 1994 and was released only on cassette. Despite that, it has been one of her most popular albums, speaking, as it does, to people who are caught up in the swirl of modern living, with its loud demands and even louder distractions. With You Always, coming from the peaceful center of Kathy's heart, is spiritual therapy for having, as one song says, "too much to do, I need more time/Gotta get moving or I'll get behind". Without denying that we all must meet our obligations, and sometimes do that at top speed, the album urges moments of reflection, followed by the bottomless assurance that faith can give. The record also calls on listeners gratefully to acknowledge all that is good in their lives, to look at all their blessings. For years, Kathy's fans have asked her to put this album out on compact disc, and now she has done that, with a bonus. There are seven brand new songs, recorded in 2003 with DaHouse Band, that reaffirm and broaden Kathy's messages and methods while bringing to bear all of the musical skills that she has developed since 1994. For old fans and new, here's a great record made even better.
And then I dreamt . . .
Kathy wanted to make an album of lullabies that was also an interesting record in its own right. To do that, she used a mix of well-known songs, some older, less familiar ones and five newer ones, penned by Kathy and the Executive Producer. She then sweetened the mix with several classical pieces (for example, using five of Mozart’s twelve variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star/Bah Bah, Black Sheep”). Then, to add to the very personal approach that she takes to her material, Kathy performed all of the vocals and played all of the instruments herself. The arrangements of the older tunes (and, occasionally, the use of rarely heard lyrics to familiar songs) give them a freshness that is unexpected. The new songs are playful and even thoughtful folk tunes that children and parents will love. “This is the first time I’ve ever made a record with the idea of putting my listeners to sleep,” Kathy says. “But I also hope that they’ll want to hear it when they’re wide awake, too.” They should. The album works both ways, meaning that Kathy accomplished her goal of making a lullaby album that is also a coherent, interesting and accomplished recording.
The Garland and The Silver Star
There's nothing like something special for Christmas, and Kathy Tugman's holiday album is, indeed, something special. By turns, swinging, thoughtful, spiritual and merry, Kathy's Christmas album takes its title from a song by Beth Nielsen Chapman (which song, "There's Still My Joy," is a highlight of the record) and its styles from folk, jazz, gospel and traditional Christmas music.
If you like the tight sounds of vocals from the Forties, it's here. If you like the haunting sweetness of the best Christmas folk music, it's here, too. If you want to hear the great Christmas hymns given strong arrangements and if you like the smooth sound of the classic Christmas pop tunes, you will find all of that here. ("Gosh!" the Executive Producer exclaimed, "it's just like Christmas!")
Kathy and her talented friends use sophisticated but crisp vocal arrangements and instrumentation that includes keyboards, guitars, handbells and tasteful percussion to bring a warm and spiritually satisfying sound to the music of Christmas. This is an album that you will bring out and play, year and after, each time that the Season comes around. The Garland and the Silver Star will, itself, become a Christmas tradition.
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