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.