There's one thing I just don't understand about Kris Delmhorst: Why isn't she a star?
I think I know the answer: it's apparently because she won't follow orders, from "the suits" that control most big-time recording, that are contrary to her desires, to her vision. No selling out from this young lady. No compromise of her artistic vision, no tramping herself up to appeal to the mass-marketed, hot-new-video, Divas Du Jour crowd that buys the majority of the records that are released (or, in the case of most of them, apparently escaped).
Having seen Kris perform in a small venue a few months ago, with Mark Erelli and herself as her sole accompaniment, I'd already heard half the songs on this CD. In fact, that was not only the first time I'd heard her, but also the first time I'd heard OF her. It took me less than one song - her accompanying Erelli during his opening set - to realize that I'd found a female singer of great ability. Once her own set began, it took me mere moments to realize that she was also a songwriter to be reckoned with, one who made me remember the great female singer-songwriters that I loved in the late '60s and early-mid '70s.The new album, Songs For A Hurricane, opens with the sounds of wind blowing, signaling the approaching storm. This leads into Waiting Under The Waves, one of many songs on the album that deals with the theme of a relationship gone bad. Although this theme permeates the album, at no time does the listener feels like it's just one big pity party. There's no "woe is me" attitude, simply a "this is how it is - this is where we're at" matter-of-factness. Before the album closes with more of the wind of the hurricane, it covers a lot of stormy ground. East Of The Mountains, a bluegrass-influenced country-rocker follows Waiting..., and is a great song that would be even better had the lead instrumental track been a fiddle instead of guitar.
That brings me to about the only slightly critical comment I have about this album: some of the lead guitar work, particularly the first few songs. It's not that the playing falls short, it's just that it sometimes seems to have been the wrong choice - in style, in tone or just in the choice of guitar vs. another instrument - for the song. The most notable exceptions are the leads done by the aforementioned Erelli, which are perfectly suited to each song on which he appears.
The slow, gut-wrenching, resigned feel and lyrics of You're No Train is haunting, making it one of my favorites on an album filled with already and soon-to-be favorites. Another prime cut is an Everly Brothers-like duet with Erelli, Juice & June. Kris Delmhorst's voice is just country enough for the older, traditional country fans, pop enough for the current state of Country Music, folksy, poignant and just about anything else you'd associate with a top-notch vocalist, which she absolutely is. Oh, and having seen her play guitar, and knowing that she's a classically trained cellist (and a self-taught fiddler), she more than holds her own instrumentally as well.
The sweetness of the vocal on Hummingbird couples well with its tale of a girl who's never been shy or reticent, but becomes a wall flower in the presence of a certain guy to whom she's clearly attracted. Hurricane builds into a, well, hurricane force of raunchy guitar, with the storm (relationship) at its most intense. Come Home is Kris solo, on banjo, sounding like she's sitting alone on the porch, thinking about the guy who left her behind.
After songs about a relationship in trouble, and then in turmoil, the album ends with a couple of songs (Wasted Word and Short Work) in which the singer accepts that it's over, puts the past in the past, bows her neck and moves on. What "was" is gone, what "is" needs to be gone, and what "is to be" is ready to be discovered - or created.
In addition to liking the songs and performances, I prefer the recording style of this album to her previous, ever-so-slightly overproduced Five Stories. Stripped bare it's not, but it IS clothed in fewer and simpler garments than the last, exposing more of Kris and removing any doubt as to her immense talents being all hers, and not the creation of some studio wizardry.
I'm breaking my own rule of living with an album for awhile before writing a review for a couple of reasons. First, I already know half of these songs very well, thanks to the decidedly lo-fi recording I made of that April performance because I was there to review Mark Erelli and I hate missing music while taking notes as to song titles, themes and so on. Secondly, this album will be available everywhere within a few days (and is already for sale on the web site of the artist and her record company), and I want to get this review posted so that our readers will see a recommendation for the album as quickly as possible.
Kris Delmhorst can be as big a star as she wants to be. My sense is that she's far more interested in being the best singer, songwriter and musician that she can be. If stardom comes, so be it - but apparently only on her terms. Good for you, Kris!
Songs For A Hurricane
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