Kathy Kallick Band
Live Oak Records
San Francisco’s Kathy Kallick is no stranger to traditional bluegrass fans, having established herself in that field in 1975 as a co-founder of the fondly remembered Good Ol’ Persons and contributing to the music as a solo and band artist. Time is her 17th album and for good reason it’s being hailed as the pinnacle of her achievements. However, Kallick would be the first to point out the album as a group effort, and perhaps would agree that in Annie Staninec (vocals, fiddle, clawhammer banjo), Greg Booth (dobro, banjo, vocals), Dan Booth (acoustic bass, vocals) and Tom Bekeny (mandolin, fiddle, vocals) she’s working with the finest group she’s ever assembled. Bekeny and Greg Booth each contribute exciting instrumentals to this collection (the delightful romp that is “Old Red Mandolin,” courtesy Bekeny, and the deliriously dizzying dobro- and fiddle-fired “Shuckin’ the Acorns” by Greg), and Kallick gets impressive help with the vocal duties from Staninec and Dan Booth, both in harmony and lead roles.
The instrumentals bring out the purest bluegrass side of the band; elsewhere, for the most part, its old-time sound is rooted more in traditional folk music, which perfectly suits warm, conversational singing–there are some echoes of Diana Jones and Donna Ulisse in her timbre, if comparisons must be made–that doesn’t attempt to dazzle with embellishments but serves each song’s message or storyline directly and unambiguously. If there’s a binding conceit here it’s that of casual conversation among friends, unfolding at a moderate pace, marked by existential concerns, tall tales and observational commentary. For example, Kallick’s original title track opens the album on a high stepping note, fiddle and banjo in full flight, as she points out that “men like to hear the young girls sing,” but she in fact is getting better with age so “please don’t mistake me for one like all the rest.” The chorus, a repeated chant of “time, time, time,” is both weary exhale and instructive heads-up–this is going on. And what if a group of musicians working in this style were to sit around and speculate on the Carter Family’s story, imagining A.P. Sara and Maybelle were gathered together again for one more recording. The archaic but compelling language (with its nod to “Wildwood Flower” in the lyric “the separate lives that we have led/have twined tonight as branches bent”) of the gentle adieu–it could be a breakup song, it might be about a couple facing their dying times–“Fare Thee Well,” delivered with a beautifully restrained ache by Kallick is further enhanced by a tender, tear-stained dobro solo from Greg Booth that emerges right out of the shadow of Clinch Mountain. When talk turns to mortality, who but Bill Monroe is there? With Dan Booth taking a sturdy lead vocal and Kallick reaching into her upper range for a keening plea, the entire band pitches in to make this a stirring moment of bluegrass gospel harmonizing on “Lord Protect My Soul,” an appeal for divine guidance on this mortal coil until we’re called home.
Kathy Kallick Band, ‘Old Black Choo Choo,’ from the Time album. Live at the U-Tunes Concert, May 6, 2011. Kathy Kallick on guitar and vocals; Annie Staninec, fiddle and vocals; Dan Booth, bass and vocal; Greg Booth, banjo.
The Kathy Kallick Band, ‘Shaking Down the Acorn’s (aka ‘Shuckin’ the Acorns’ on the Time album), live at the Petaluma (Ca) Church Concerts, Nov. 20, 2010. Banjo man Greg Booth wrote the instrumental.
The band’s cheery strut through “Old Black Choo Choo” (a chestnut of yore penned by Terry Fell and Henry Maddox and here a blend of versions by the Strange Creek Singers and Rose Maddox) is a moment to savor: a train song, sung from the train’s point of view, campaigning for the coal-fired Iron Horse’s viability in the age of diesel engines, a serious theme lent the jaunty air of one of Woody Guthrie’s children’s tunes when Kallick and Staninec join voices in a jaunty rendering of the chorus, “So me fa fa fa so la mi so so fa/So me fa fa fa so la mi so/So me fa fa fa so la la/So me fa fa fa so la.” With Greg Booth fashioning a reverent dobro solo and Staninec adding solemn, long fiddle lines, Kallick delivers a touching rendition of the poignant hymn “Precious Memories” ahead of the band kicking it up a notch with a Cajun-flavored tearjerker that is their version of Alton Delmore’s “I’m Lonesome Without You,” an occasion for another fine dobro solo from Greg to augment Dan’s lonely vocal. From the basement of time, the album signs off with the traditional “Long Time Travelin’,” one of those existential ruminations on the hollowness of earthly existence and the promise of a heavenly reunion with loved ones “gone before, waiting till I reach that golden strand.” Kallick’s and Staninec’s dour voices are positively haunting, a mood elevated to greater affect by the latter’s spare clawhammer banjo and ominous fiddle cries. These and other songs make Time an unforgettable document; they seep into your consciousness slowly but inexorably, and you find yourself cueing up the album again and again. Each time you do, you learn a little more, and you’re richer for the experience.