Red House Records, Inc.
P O Box 4044
St. Paul, MN 55104
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Henry Koretzky
It's only been a short time since Kate MacKenzie split off from the Minnesota-based bluegrass band Stoney Lonesome. She created an impressive stir with her 1994 solo debut recording LET THEM TALK. Now the release of her newest CD, AGE OF INNOCENCE, updates her artistic profile and elevates her to one of the best female vocalists in modern bluegrass.
Part of it is the voice. MacKenzie has a tone that manages to sound simultaneously husky and wholesome. This noncynical world-weariness is apropos for the title track, a wistful look back at a youthful point of view. "The Age of Innocence" is one of four MacKenzie originals here, including the haunting "Epitaph" and a pair of blues-tinged tracks, "I Can't Stop Myself" and "Carolina."
As with LET THEM TALK, producer Nick Forster (Hot Rize, E-TOWN) has gathered together a stellar cast of supporting players. John Reischman's sparkling mandolin and Stuart Duncan's soaring fiddle are joined by the blue/bop banjo of Tony Furtado, Rob Ickes' gutsy dobro, and the loping bass of Gene Libbea. Alan O'Bryant shows off his uncanny ability to concoct a killer harmony vocal, shadowing Kate MacKenzie's voice on "Epitaph."
As MacKenzie's solo experience has increased, her ability to put her own stamp on material has reflected her self-assuredness. O'Bryant's solo banjo accompaniment, which kicks off MacKenzie's ironic reading of "Single Girl," showcases the fullness of her voice and the maturity of her delivery. She also takes on the western swing standard "What's the Matter with the Mill?" with a more straight-ahead bluegrass treatment. There's even a new rendition of Mick Hanly's "Past the Point of Rescue," which is fast becoming a contemporary acoustic standard after being covered by Hal Ketchum, Mary Black, and Gary Ferguson.
Kate MacKenzie calls her bluegrass/blues fusion "swamp grass." I call it some of the best vocal music in bluegrass today, and after you listen to AGE OF INNOCENCE, I think you'll agree.
Edited by David Schultz