by Roberta B. Schwartz
A couple of years back, Signature Sounds put out a memorable compilation of Boston area "girls with guitars" called Respond. Of the many voices on that recording, Kris Delmhorst, singing her signature tune "Weatherman," stood out. And hearing that tune only whet your appetite for more of Delmhorst's music.
Her new recording, Five Stories, fulfills her earlier promise and more. Ranging from pop to rock to folk to country, and everything in between, there's nothing that Kris can't sing, nor anything the talented band she has surrounded herself with, can't play. These are musician's musicians.
Starting off with a little country rock number called Cluck Old Hen, Kris and company demonstrate that this band can rock! Billy Conway on drums drives the beat, while Kris on both guitar and organ, Sean Staples on banjo and Jake Beyer on electric guitar bring it on home.
Damn Love Song is a ballad; a love song that describes both the wonder and pain of love. Delmhorst's voice is soft, sweet and expressive here, with quick flights into the upper reaches of her range, almost breaking with emotion before reaching back.
Losing out on love gets a run for its money in Broken White Line, which is graced with both Sean Staples' mandolin and Jennifer Kimball's accompanying vocals. There is a guarded vulnerability, something in the way Delmhorst's voice trembles and breaks, that makes her vocal style so alluring. She's at her best here, with lyrics that shine: "it was almost fine /you were almost mine, /& town to town we chased it down /on a broken white line."
All of the songs are so good, it's difficult not to mention every one. Little Wings is a near perfect rocker, while Words Fail You, with Delmhorst's aching vocals, perfectly evoke the difficulties we all have with love and intimacy. And how can you miss by having Catie Curtis on board?
Yellow Brick Road turns the Oz odyssey on its head with its firm message of self-reliance. Possessed of a rich melody and some of the finest writing on the recording, this tune is a standout.
Mean Old Wind is pure, traditional country with Eric Royer on banjo. Honeyed Out is a sexy R&B tune with a supporting cast of musicians a mile long in talent.
The recording closes with a beautiful little lullaby called Lullaby 101. Just Delmhorst and guitar - it's a gem.
Kris Delmhorst's pure musicianship, unique vocals and overall sound place her in a category where she has few peers. Five Stories is a testament to that talent. It is one of the best recordings of the year.