Puremusic interview with Kami Lyle

Earlier this summer, I went up with my friend Arthur Godfrey to play at the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod. One of the big perks of the whole affair was that Tricky Ricky and I stole out early Sunday morning to have a breakfast rendezvous with Joey Spampinato and Kami Lyle.

Kami is greatly missed by her friends and fans in Nashville, but as the funereal saying goes, she has gone to a better place. Her jazz-inspired repertoire was certainly respected and enjoyed here, but it's even better suited to a more urbane audience, they're very smart songs. Apparently it was the big ears of Nashville's Tony Brown, then of MCA (now Universal South), that first heard the offbeat genius there, culminating in a substantial deal with MCA. It produced a big budget record and video that either they didn't know (yet) how to sell, or it didn't stick for whatever myriad reasons. This was years before Norah Jones changed the world, making it safe for jazzier pop. (Not that a batch has flourished in the wake, but at least an undeniable precedent occurred.)

She's a looker, somewhere between Marilyn Monroe and Betty Boop is generally how I characterize it. There's a lot of shtick there, but the glimpses that she gives you of her actual person keeps one around. A Kami show is another thing--she is captivating onstage, her tone and timing are world class. As a songwriter she is quite unto herself, and has a humor and a vision that is palpably unique. She has a jazzer's chops, and a knowledge of theory and harmony that puts her writing into a much different domain than somebody strumming six or eight chords on a guitar they taught themselves. (We like those too, it's just a different thing. In fact, it's a pleasure listening to someone who writes on piano, different kinds of songs emerge.)

The artist is an accomplished trumpet player, in the Chet Baker tradition. She has graced a number of other recordings with her horn, including Patty Griffin, Ron Sexsmith, and NRBQ, and sung on several recordings of Jill Sobule and others. I remember shows where she'd also pick up a trombone and play, she'd always have some funny bits built around those moments. Thinking back a little, it's easy to recall a breathless quality that would exist in the audience, hanging on her every word and lyric, something that rarely occurs before an artist has reached superstardom.

Where the MCA debut, Blue Cinderella, was a corporate launch, 10 Songs is no more than a collection of demos, from Nashville and her current home on Cape Cod. But it's all there, most vocals are first takes, the songs are undeniable, the players sublime--I don't miss the expensive production, personally. It's great, just as it is.

A few years back, Kami married one of my favorite people and musicians, Joey Spampinato, of NRBQ fame. I drove from Philly to be an usher, along with our friend Victor Meccysne, at their wedding. They are celestially suited to one another, and thrive. It made a big impression on me when they used Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life" as their wedding song. When recently I was asked to become a minister online and marry some friends of mine from Shanghai, I recited the lyrics of that song and the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love."

If you've not yet heard this amazing artist, you'll find you need both recordings. But start with 10 Songs, it's really the essence. We had a conversation recently, and share it with you here.
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