Kate Wallace,
Too Long from the Sea
(New Pair O'Dimes, 2000)

On the back of the leaflet for her CD Too Long From the Sea, singer-songwriter Kate Wallace credits fellow musician Michael Camp with coming up with the perfect word to describe her music: Amer-eclectic. Indeed, the 12 songs on this CD reflect an eclectic range of styles and moods within a solid American musical and cultural context.

In addition to Wallace's fluid vocals and guitar, an assortment of players supports her songs. John Gardner provides drums and percussion while Sam Weedman supplies additional drums, percussion and mandolin. Mark Prentice plays bass and guitar, Steven Sheehan and Michael Lille play guitar, Dana Cooper plays harmonica and Andrea Zonn provides fiddle. Background vocals are performed by Michelle Prentice, Tom Kimmel, Dana Cooper, Michael Camp, Sally Barris, Cindy Greene, Mark Prentice, Marcus Hummonm and Michael Lille. That's a pretty big complement for background, yet it is always subtle and effective.

From the assertive and independent declarations of "Brave New World" to the longing of the title track "Too Long From the Sea," the upbeat love song "He Takes It With Him When He Goes" on through to the benediction-like closing song "Wherever You Walk," Wallace's vocals are always exactly right. Her voice is clear and rich; it retains power in the lower registers and does not thin out when it gets higher. The melodies share an infectiousness, yet the style shifts from song to song: each is distinctly different.

Some of the songs have a melody line which contrasts sharply with the content, creating an interesting tension, such as in "Trophy Girl," where the cheery, near sing-song belies the sharp kiss off in the lyrics: "I won't let you make me callous and cold/I want to hold my head up when I'm old." At other times, the melody and lyrics mesh perfectly, as in "Losing Colorado," a song about a couple who left the state for a fast track life and want to get back what they lost before it's too late -- and they do! "We can escape these prison bars/In the time it takes to pack the car." Another is "Wild Blue" which Wallace begins a cappella with the chorus, giving it a touch of a gospel hymn.

Wallace blends folk, pop, blues and jazz effectively into a unique and appealing style of her own. Each track has something to recommend it; each song has a story in the evocative lyrics. On Too Long From the Sea, Wallace demonstrates a versatility in performance and material which is both rare and welcome.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 9 March 2002