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Kath Bloom - Sing the Children Over & Sand In My Shoe / Terror

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Artist: Kath Bloom

Album: Sing the Children Over & Sand In My Shoe / Terror

Label: Chapter Music

Review date: Sep. 19, 2008

As an artist, Kath Bloom is best known for her early 1980s work with experimental guitarist Loren Mazzacane Connors. It was a collaboration that worked because of differences as much as common ground. Their timbres – Bloom’s high fragile soprano, Connors’ eerie altered blues licks – seemed to exist in a shared parallel universe, wavering, indefinite and haunting.

Still, there’s no denying that Bloom’s approach to singing was far more conventional than Connors’ approach to guitar. This year’s reissues of the pair’s Sing the Children Over from 1982 and Sand in My Shoe a year later, testify to the power of their odd blend – Bloom warm, humane and deeply attached to folk and blues tradition, Connors breaking loose from field blues licks for otherworldly overtones and dissonances.

It is the kind of combination that can make any song, no matter how familiar, sound supernatural. Indeed, even the children’s song, "I’ve Been Working on the Railroad," one of a number of traditional melodies recorded on Sing the Children Over, takes on a patina of otherworldiness, as Bloom’s delicate, vibrato-laced soprano floats over a bed of high, keening blues bends.

Bloom stopped recording with Connors in 1984, and indeed, stopped recording altogether for the rest of the 1980s. (She had three kids in the interim.) She began making music again in the 1990s, releasing CD-Rs and home-recorded cassettes. These recordings caught the attention of director Richard Linklater early on, and when he included Bloom’s "Come Here" on the soundtrack of the film Before Sunrise, a modest revival ensured. Bloom’s 1999 CD-R Come Here: The Florida Years was reissued in 2005 along with Finally, her first album of new mostly material in the ‘00s.

Bloom makes a couple of critical transitions on her new album, Terror. First, though her material derives from as long ago as the 1980s and as recently as 2007, it is all previously unreleased. It is not an attempt to revive interest in her work – she did that with the last record – but rather a fresh statement of where she is right now. There are songs, like last time, about the distractions of family life ("Midnight Moon"), long-term love ("Love Me" and "Close to You"), and considerations of mortality ("When Your House is Burning"). Yet, in all cases, Bloom’s lyrics seem lived in, comfortable and devoid of exaggeration. These songs are honest, almost to a fault. They are poetic in the warm, ordinary way that close examination of life brings.

The second change is that she is working more than ever with a full band. Her ghostly tunes sit in rich meshes of guitar, bass, drums, harmonica and, occasionally, recorder and strings. It doesn’t always work. The arrangements sometimes reinforce what’s conventional about these ‘70s-mining folk songs, rather than adding depth and color. For instance, where the slide guitar and recorder on "Everything Looks Different at Night" enhances the tune’s wild otherness, the full-band blues-jam of "Midnight Moon" seems to flatten out the song. The harmonica in "Something to Tell You" makes an otherwise lovely piece sound like a ‘70s folk parody. Far better to leave haunting songs like "Your House is Burning" to speak for themselves, with just a touch of guitar and that extraordinary voice.

Still, the band adds undeniable charm and comfort to many of these cuts. You could certainly make the argument that what Terror is missing is the strangeness and artistry of Connors. His guitar, on the earlier albums, had a good helping of traditionalism, but also a light-filled, time-bending oddity that pushed her songs to transcendence. But what you get in return is a woman at the peak of artistic maturity, writing songs that speak to her experiences and supported by a loving band of fellow travelers. Terror is, perhaps, not as extraordinary as Bloom’s work with Connors, but it celebrates the ordinary with radiant warmth.

By Jennifer Kelly

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