Live Oak Records

Kathy Kallick, with her big engaging voice and compelling musical style, has been a keystone of the West Coast bluegrass scene for decades. A contemporary and peer of such greats as Laurie Lewis and John Reischman, Kallick has entertained audiences at festivals and clubs from California to New England since 1975 to great acclaim. She’s won a Grammy and two IBMA awards, releasing 20 albums with the groundbreaking Good Ol’ Persons and under her own name.

On her latest CD, the ironically titled Horrible World, Kallick takes an inward turn, looking at bluegrass through a West Coast-influenced lens. Backed by Annie Staninec (fiddle), Greg Booth (resonator guitar and banjo), Tom Bekeny (mandolin), and Cary Black (acoustic bass), her punchy rhythm guitar, sure-handed songwriting, and stellar contralto voice create a rich, deeply engaging sound that should appeal to everyone from hardcore fans of Monroe-style bluegrass and the modal mountain melodies of mentors Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard to fans of more contemporary acoustic and urban folk styles.

Opening with the uptempo “Ride Away,” the CD gets off to a rollicking start with a classic tune of outlaws and fast horses on the run. Booth’s straight-up banjo style meshes perfectly with the downstroke-heavy mandolin work of Bekeny. The title-tune explores the lack of good news and hope in today’s world where we just have to see it through.Her message, much like what she’s gleaned from her bluegrass and old-time mentors, is that the best we can do is face reality and make the best of it, words that ring as true today as they might have in the Great Depression or the Civil War.

Staninec kicks off “Cascade Blues” in a slightly bluesy, swinging fiddle style that recalls Kenny Baker, followed by a powerful Monroe-esque solo from the estimable Tom Bekeny. She follows with a true blue bluegrass classic, “Dark As The Night,” where Kallick’s deeply soulful voice and magnificent delivery shows she’s one of the greatest bluegrass vocalists of her generation or any other.

Horrible Worldis classic West Coast bluegrass, filled to the brim with driving rhythm, timeless bluegrass instrumental stylings, and a sense of freedom and exploration that has always set bluegrass along the Left Coast free of some of the obligatory stylings heard among some bands back East. A true heroine in the pantheon of female vocalists in bluegrass, Kathy Kallick shows on her latest CD that like Napa Valley wines and old Hollywood movie classics, some things truly get better with age. (www.kathykallick.com)DJM

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