Puremusic interview with Kathy Mattea

Perhaps like many of our readers, I thought I was pretty familiar with this artist. I'd heard all the radio hits through the 80s and 90s, and liked them a lot, thought she was a very consistent star, and one who picked great songs. Her time in the big Country machine seemed to be done, maybe she'd finished just in time. But the show I saw recently at the Belcourt Theater of Kathy Mattea and her incredible band redefined any of the half-baked ideas I'd held about who she was.

To put her evolution in some small perspective, it's helpful to know that her rise to stardom was slow, that she didn't break the Top Ten until the eighth single. (That would never happen in the Country market today. One would have been long gone after the third single.) She was voted Best Female Vocalist twice in the CMA's, and "Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses" was the single of the year. She won two Grammys.

But by the turn of the millennium, Country was running scared and all of Music Row was in flux, like the rest of the industry. Before things got messy, Mattea opted to leave Mercury Records after 17 years, gracefully and amicably, and consider her next move.

After all, she'd not been a cookie cutter artist. Like Mary Chapin Carpenter, you could hear the folk background that in her case producer Allen Reynolds had skillfully shaped into something that would work in the Country scene. She was a modern day songcatcher, hung out with the writers (married one, Jon Vezner) and, above all else, her career has been about great songs. She did some writing, but always considered herself an interpreter with a more transparent style, the voice behind the song.

As our conversation details, her stage demeanor is very striking, and her band is mindblowing. Jim Brock on the drums and percussion plays like a medicine man. He did a solo with a hand drum that recalled the brilliance of Airto Moreira, and that's like saying someone's sitar playing reminds you of Ravi Shankar. Although every single member of the ensemble is brilliant in their own right, musical director and guitarist Bill Cooley is also a true standout, and we look forward to hearing his new solo record, A Turn In The Road. Be sure to investigate Jim Brock's DVD, The Art of Drumming.

After her Mercury exit, Kathy Mattea found a happy home at Narada Records, well regarded as a World and instrumental music label. Right Outta Nowhere is her third and landmark release with them, and it's a must have for anyone who's been touched by this artist, because here she is truly shining. Here you get the beautiful person behind the voice behind the song. The chorus to the lovely title song (written by Steve Seskin and Christine Kane) says it all:

Right outta nowhere
You open your heart
And that changes everything
You're going somewhere
And all you need to know
Is that you're free to go

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