Kathy Mattea,
(Narada, 2002)

On Kathy Mattea's website, she describes having discovered her spiritual musical home during several trips to Scotland during the early 1990s. "There she found music and people she loved, including inspiration and friendship from singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean." When the BBC filmed the first series of Transatlantic Sessions in 1994, which very nicely explored the connection between Celtic and country music, Mattea's pairing with MacLean was a natural. Although her background is country, West Virginia native Mattea, seeking greater creative freedom in her music, signed with the Narada label, and Roses, her 12th album overall, is her first Narada release.

Roses is neither Celtic nor country, but weaves strands of each into a rich musical fabric that has much in common with singer-songwriters such as Mary Chapin Carpenter and Joan Baez at their best. Although this album doesn't sound exactly like a Joan Baez record, the comparison kept coming to mind while listening to this disc, partially because of Mattea's range of musical styles and the quality of her voice, and partially because, like Baez, she's assembled a wonderful collection of songs, mostly covers, with several originals written either by band members or co-written by her.

Roses begins with a cover of "That's All the Lumber," a stirring allegorical tune that retains the Celtic flavor of Ceili Rain's original version, which always sounded to me like it belonged on one of the of later period Hooters albums, specifically Rob Hyman's Largo project. The lyrics are bound to annoy the cynical, but the tune's got great energy and a melodic hook that won't let go, making it a fine lead track."Ashes in the Wind" has a lovely and haunting melody combined with a vocal performance that would sound right at home on a Mary Chapin Carpenter record."I'm Allright" is a well-chosen cover tune that totally does justice to writer Kim Richey's original. "Till I Turn to You" is reminiscent of early Jackson Browne, with great production providing strong deep bass and well-recorded acoustic guitar.

This record should help Mattea shed the country label, hopefully without alienating her existing fan base. We're all the way to track eight, before the pedal steel guitar in the background gives the first hint of Mattea's country roots on "Who We Are," a tune co-written by Beth Nielsen Chapman that again compares favorably to Mary Chapin Carpenter. "Isle of Inishmore -- Part 1 (Air)" is a Celtic-flavored instrumental with gorgeous violin work by Chris Carmichael; that leads into "Part 2," which is a full bore Celtic jig. "The Slender Threads That Bind Us Here" co-written by Mattea, closes the album beautifully.

Mattea describes Roses as "contemporary folk with a Celtic twist," and she has come up with one terrific record. Listeners who favor rock, folk, country, Celtic or singer-songwriter styles of music will all assuredly enjoy this wonderful piece of work. On Narada's website, Mattea says that the message of Roses is "treasure the moment and enjoy the journey, wherever it may take us." I, for one, can't wait to hear where she'll go next.

- Rambles
written by William Kates
published 19 July 2003

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