This is another record I came across in an unusual way. Atlanta-based musician Kate Coleman is friends with a group I reviewed back in October called Highbeams. (They actually served as an opening act to one of her recent shows.) So she wrote me recently and asked if I would take a listen to this one, and since I had a dearth of albums this year to contend for a top 5 I said to myself, sure, why not.
Both Coleman and the Highbeams group have a similarity in that they “perch on the ledge that exists between folk, rock, country, Americana, and adult contemporary;” however, if all these genres were made into a Venn diagram I would place Coleman closest to the country, rock, and Americana circles. Take the opening track Run Katie, Run – it’s a song that has a rockabilly tenor and more than likely crossover appeal. Like several songs on the album Katie has its minor flaws, like how it gets less interesting when it slows down, but there are facets where it shines, too, such as its coda.
If you ever wondered what Janis Joplin would have sounded like doing country, the answer may be in Do It Anyway, with a tasty bit of organ for good measure. It reminded me a bit of the stylings of a dear, departed friend of mine who graced these pages a number of times before her untimely passing three years ago this month. Reaching even farther back, I got the mental picture of a old Western swing two-step as Kate sang I’m Sorry, with a yodeling-like rendition of the title lyric.
Reverting back toward the modern day maybe a generation or so, I recall my mom and dad had a record where the artist was praised as one erasing the long-standing line between country and pop. If it weren’t already gone, Why Can’t You See? would have finished the job. (By the way, I’m talking about early 70’s pop, not the pop modern country merged with a couple decades back only to further dilute itself in recent years with homages to rock/rap/hip-hop.) Later on, the song Tomorrow also comes out to me as a throwback from four decades past. (That’s a bit of irony, isn’t it?)
Learning To Fly is not a remake of Pink Floyd, but instead comes across as a track that would be radio-friendly with a bit of pruning up front – the chant-like open doesn’t really help the song. Get it down to 3 1/2 minutes and it may be a winner if that’s what she wants. (Sometimes it’s hard to edit, as I know from experience. Why do you think I write a blog?)
The same can be said of Don’t, the second of two consecutive songs that could be singles if a little shorter – it’s a song that seeps its way from a weepy ballad to a more modern country track. But a strange bridge detracts a bit from that one, too. She doesn’t have to be like modern country – we have more than enough of that rot.
I credit Coleman with taking some chances on this album. A couple songs where the risk pays off with a reward are the countrified blues of Nothing At All, which features very tight harmony, and the weird dichotomy of the title track Past, a song which strangely evoked in my ears a cross between country and a rock opera that somehow gets pulled off in an enjoyable manner. It’s weird, but a good weird.
Kate wraps up with the acoustic and slow fade of What Comes Next? If I were to have a complaint about track order, it seems to me that the album sort of peters out halfway through, losing some of its energy and charm. It would be better to listen to this one on shuffle, for sure.
This may be the longest album review I’ve written this year, and it’s surprising because I wasn’t handed a lot of background information on the band. A look at the album on Bandcamp, which is a fine place to listen for yourself, shows that Coleman had a batch of helpers who supplied the usual Americana instruments: mandolin, dobro, and fiddle complement the standard drums, bass, and guitar. (Among other things, Kate played guitar, percussion, and tin whistle – which was something I had to look up!)
As a first effort, Kate has been wise enough not to self-produce and that helps to curb most of the excesses. In the eight months since she released “Past” she’s also released an album of collaborations with other (presumably) Atlanta-area artists (plus an intriguing solo take on The Cranberries’ hit Zombie) as well as a live album featuring most of these songs from “Past.”
Since she asked nicely, besides the review I’m going to give her a bit of (somewhat, but not completely tongue-in-cheek) advice. At her website as currently comprised, there’s a photo of her holding a Miller Lite. First of all, we here on our little corner of the Eastern Shore can turn her on to far, far better beer than that and secondly she might fit right in as a performer. Granted, it’s a bit of a hike from Georgia but piece together a couple other local dates and you never know.
With this I call it a year for reviews: next week will be my top 5 for 2018. This one isn’t the slam dunk for inclusion like one I did last weekend, but it is a contender as I give a second (or third, or fourth) listen to some of the other albums in past 2018 reviews.