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Kath Bloom - Finally

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Artist: Kath Bloom

Album: Finally

Label: Chapter Music

Review date: Sep. 23, 2006

If Natalie Portman’s assurance that the Shins will change your life represented indie rock’s wheezing death rattle, it’s important to remember that there are no rules requiring such scenes to suck. After all, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy got away with it in Before Sunrise, stumbling into a Viennese record store to make fawning eyes at each other while Kath Bloom sang on the diegetic soundtrack. Zach Braff versus Richard Linklater may not be much of a contest, but if Portman had slipped Finally over the actor-director’s ears, he’d probably have less to apologize for.

That fleeting moment in Before Sunrise is the closest that the Connecticut-based singer Bloom has come to mainstream exposure, which is upsetting because her music is the kind that I can easily imagine a wider audience embracing – people like my mother, say, who subsists on scuffed Joni Mitchell discs. The thing about Bloom’s music is that it’s immediately warming, but it pricks a little. Bloom sings about quotidian things, from the perspective of sisters and wives and mothers. She’s a little like Alice Munro, working with set pieces that can be dismissed at a glance as narrow and antiquated, until you realize how just how masterfully they’re being utilized, towards difficult ends that you don’t immediately expect.

Bloom’s output can rather neatly be divided into two parts, only one of which is represented on Finally. In the early 1980s, Bloom and avant-garde guitarist Loren Connors recorded five limited edition LPs, featuring the guitarist’s extended, blues-indebted meditations and Bloom’s fragile voice. The best of that work is collected on an anthology (1981-1984) that turns up less and less frequently in used bins. It’s staggering, shapeless music, a partnership reminiscent of Blind Willie and Angeline Johnson – songs that sound like last night’s hurt washed away by this morning’s rain.

When her collaboration with Connors drew to a close, Bloom concentrated on raising a family and took a 10-year hiatus from recording. Finally contains the material she produced after picking up singing again, and the songs feel palpably like little compositions one would write in moments of repose, around the bustle of raising three children. “Come Here,” with its gentle snare and painterly touches of violin, cello, and viola, may be Bloom’s best-known song, but it has a stately air that’s uncharacteristic of much of the rest of her material. “Homeless Dream,” a hushed and mysterious little ditty, is among the singer’s most intimate and pretty compositions. A meditation on the gulfs that exist between people – rich, poor, and otherwise – Bloom sews burnishing images to restless guitar lines and her husband’s restrained bass. “You were leaning on the railing, I moved away so you could make your way / I remember you saying ‘Darling, what a beautiful day’.”

Bloom’s music has been called lonely, but it’s not exactly that. Her songs work to diagram distances – both interior and exterior – within quiet, domestic settings. In this way “Come Here” isn’t only her defining song, but her defining theme. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt this bad and that’s why I’m wandering,” she sings on “Sand In My Shoe.” “Come on, why don’t you say ‘come here, dear’?” A weary despondency over war, materialism and dejection creeps up in her skeletal songs, and these are the things Bloom can sometimes hammer too squarely. Her reoccurring motifs of wild horses and open fields are what she renders most mysteriously, and she sketches these with a brittle, aching reverence.

Most of the material on Finally has been available for some time, on a homemade disc called The Florida Years that the singer distributes herself. That kind of person-to-person intimacy always seemed to me like a right fit for these songs, but it’s wonderful that Finally can offer Bloom a somewhat broader audience. Like Night Through, the Connors collection released this summer, Finally is a retrospective that’s well worth exploring.

By Nathan Hogan

Other Reviews of Kath Bloom

Sing the Children Over & Sand In My Shoe / Terror

Thin Thin Line

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