Trying to Get It Right

Kate MacLeod

Waterbug (WBG 0017)

A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By Kerry Dexter (kdex@freenet.scri.fsu.edu)

Kate MacLeod tells stories-the thoughts of a miner who wasn't at work the day his friend were killed in an explosion, the life of an Alabama midwife who delivered babies both black and white, the plans of person who's ready to leave town and head up to Alaska. She has a clear understanding of how to apply traditional folk style and phrasing to contemporary observations. MacLeod's lyrics have frequently been called chilling, perhaps because of the narrative persona she sometimes employs, as in Welfare Line, or the reflection of survivor's guilt-a topic not commonly dealt with in song-in Angels on My Mind, the song about the miners. There are strong although subtle thoughts of hope in MacLeod's songs too, though-"I'd rather be a pillar of salt/than leave myself behind," she sings in Me and My Medicine,and in Lark in the Morning the narrator is coming to terms with the loss of a lover, though she's not quite arrived at it yet. In Some Things are Easy the narrator looks for ways to express her love, and Play the Piano with style is a remembrance of a favorite uncle. Other tracks on the disc are Jean Ritchie's None But One (the only cover in twelve tunes),Prairyearth (inspired by the writings of William Least Heat Moon),Pawn Shop Man, and Gospel Songs. MacLeod's singing is a bit like Nanci Griffith's. She has lived in Utah for the last fifteen or so years, though, and that informs both her subject matter and her style. If you think of Nanci Grifftith's work as the stories told on the gingerbread porches Victorian houses in the shaded neighborhoods of southern towns, then Kate MacLeod's are the tales told on the spare front steps of cabins overlooking the mountains.

© Three Rivers Folklife Society, 1995, and Kerry Dexter, 1995.
It may be reproduced with prior permission and attribution.

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