Kate Long's latest CD portrays some very vivid characters: Francine, a waitress full of love in Right With You, Lilly in a sweet ballad Oh How I Meant to Love You, and a tenacious farmer in Roothog. Two cuts with lyrics taken from the Bible plus Kate's own Ain't I Been Punished Enough? offer you a taste of her rich spirituality. From blues to bluegrass, Kate touches on social justice, personal strength, and jealousy as serious issues. Some are just plain funny: Wildthing and Plain English.
McNamara's Tears especially touched me. Having been an anti-Vietnam War protester and being a friend of Robert McNamara's son in my hometown of Winters, I believe Craig influenced his father's change of heart on the war. His public admission of wrongdoing was momentous in history and Kate's song captures that in a different way. There are cuts in all. The title is rumored to come from a little boy who took Kate's height (she’s 6’ 2") seriously and blurted out "that big o lady".
Timberhead, P.O. Box 840, Camden, Maine 04843, 207-236-2707
Gordon Bok's latest solo release is thoroughly enjoyable. Accompaniment is by 6- or 12-string guitar or small viol da gamba, with harp added to the viol on one tune. Tasteful vocal harmonies are added on three tunes. I knew this CD was special when I heard the first tune--a fine rendition of Dave Goulder's haunting Faraway Tom. The title cut—one of two original compositions on the CD--is a beautiful tribute which "mourns the passing of generations of people" in Gordon's homeland. With its soothing melody, anchoring reference to the "unfamiliar language" the song came to Bok in, and gentle back-up vocals, I never tire of this song.
The gem of this CD for me is Mourning Dove, written from the perspective of an adoptee speaking to its birth mother.Having friends who recently adopted, I am still moved to tears every time I hear this song. Other highlights include Bright Fine Gold about the New Zealand gold rush, The Last Battle, and The Bressay Lullaby. Bok has proven once again that he is as accomplished at finding, selecting, and presenting fine songs by other songwriters as he is at writing his own. The Kind Land is classic Gordon Bok!
Flying Fish FLY 674, Rounder Records Corp., One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140
This is David Mallet's first album of all-new material in four years. The liner notes speak of how Mallet had been "writing songs he hoped would propel him into Music City's limelight" when his publisher in Nashville finally overheard him playing Summer of My Dreams and said, "Give me more of those." The lyrics presented in Ambition do speak from the heart, of a career and life perhaps not gone quite as hoped. Whiskey Talkin' declares "I'm just a shadow of a man." Walkin’ laments that "it's a rough and rocky road ... livin' in these times". Sportin' Days is a bitterly nostalgic view that might be expected from one looking back and wondering what happened. Ambition also speaks of desperation, intuition, seclusion, inspiration, religion, and invitations, none of which seem to have served Mallet well.
However, the Nashville influence comes through loud and clear on the arrangements. Ambition is a step in the mellower direction from the hard-driving, high-energy arrangements of Mallet's most recent releases. But—except for the final cut, Turn It Over to Love, which I loved—for those of us who yearn for Mallet's earlier style, perhaps the cut You Can't Go Home Again sums it up.
(360) 734-7979, www.lindasongs.com
I have a friend who has been known to say this of an album: "It's nice, but not something I'd turn to in a time of need." Although I'd rate the overwhelming majority of original songwriter work similarly , not so Linda Allen. Her work is always deeply rooted in the land of the heart.
Whether the songs are about feminism, relationships, war, friendship, Northwest history, or spirituality, they always come from a place of heart, and deeply touch the heart of the listener. Several of her songs have drawn tears from me, which I consider the highest praise I can give a songwriter.
This is her sixth album of original songs. As usual, the very capable recording work and musicianship of Julian Smedley, Jim Nunally, and David Lange, and the vocal work of daughters Jen and Kris (and Tracy Spring on one track) are put to very good effect. The sound is polished and complete, but never overdone. The songs range more widely than on her theme-centered previous two albums, On first listen, one might get the impression that The Long Way Home is a lesser album than Lay It Down, which may well have been Linda's masterpiece. A couple more listenings will dispel that impression; the two albums are different, and this one has its own gifts to offer. Since it doesn’t delve as deeply into spirituality, especially Christian spirituality (which can make folks uncomfortable, even when handled sensitively), The Long Way Home is probably more accessible to a wider range of listeners.
This album contains one of her very best anti-war songs, A Small Vase of Flowers, the story of a woman whose home is destroyed in a bombing raid. Linda's writing on such subjects is spare, poetic, and personalized, never pedantic. And one of her best songs of comfort ever is There Will Be An Answer. The other real standout for me is Eve, a fine piece of neo-pagan feminist philosophy, about taking back the Adam and Eve myth from patriarchal religion and owning womanhood as something beautiful rather than shameful (Z. Budapest and Starhawk would be pleased).
All of the songs have something to offer, some right away, others after getting to know them. Linda remains for me one of the handful of writers whose songwriting work really matters. And yes, feel free to play this one in a time of need.