Nat Hentoff on Kath Bloom and co. – new album coming

error is the follow-up to seminal avant-folk cult figure Kath Bloom’s 2006 return to active musical duty, Finally.  The new album was recorded at Barking Spider Studios in Warren, Connecticut with Kath and her husband Stan Bronski producing.  Terror is being released by Chapter Music Summer 2008.

 

The daughter of oboist Robert Bloom, Kath grew up in New Haven, CT, where she studied the cello as a child and started playing the guitar when she was a teenager. Bloom collaborated with Bruce Neumann in the early ’70s, but it wasn’t until she met avant-garde guitarist Loren MazzaCane Connors in 1976 that she started recording. Bloom and Connors recorded six limited edition albums of fragile, simple folk and blues melodies, the majority of which were written by Bloom herself. Their collaboration ended in 1984 with the release of their final album Moonlight. Chapter Music will be re-releasing Sing The Children Over, Sand In My Shoe, Restless, Faithful, Desperate and Moonlight as a pair of two disc sets this Summer with bonus tracks from live recordings and an early 7″.

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Original Liner notes to Sing The Children Over:

There are performers whose musical skills can be spell-binding – except that the fascination is more in the skills themselves than in the story being told. On the other hand, there are performers – very few – who so transform themselves into the music that the stories they tell become part of you.

Kath Bloom and Loren Mazzacane are their music, and in that respect they are of that order of bards which include Mississippi blues singers, Jewish cantors, Sidney Bechet, and, if you are of an age to remember, La Niña de Las Peines.

When I first heard one of their earlier records, I couldn’t get their sounds, their deeply intertwining sounds, out of my head. As I wrote in The Progressive, “The distilled feeling in the music and in the words was so strong, though often so soft, that I felt haunted. And the lyrics, whether traditional or new, kept reverberating in my memory like facts of nature.

“It’s the real thing,” I went on, “art without artifice, earned simplicity, with deep roots and yet so personal it’s like overhearing a late-night conversation.”

Since then, I’ve listened to everything by Kath and Loren I could find because their reverberations are so evocative that it’s like I’m hearing part of my own life being played back to me – in a series of epiphanies.

Kath Bloom does more than sing. Her voice – pure and yet not in the least ingenuous, urgent and yet calming – is a call of reckoning. An accounting, at the moment of the song, of her life and of those with which it intersects.

Loren Mazzacane’s vocal guitar has the same penetrating qualities as Kath Bloom’s voice. Both really do touch on universals in their music. I sense that you could put them in a time machine and transport them into different centuries and they would get through to whatever listeners they found themselves among.

I am particularly delighted with this recording of theirs because, by contrast with the other sets they have made, you can hear all of what they do here. At last, the production and engineering is up to the music. There is, after all, a lot to hear. The singular textures, of both the voice and the guitar; and the dynamics. As Kath Bloom puts it, “We like to whisper.” But not always.

Then there is the light. Sure, music generates light. Any form of expression can – depending on the spirit in charge. For example, Kath Bloom notes that her influences range from Tolstoy, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday and Cezanne. (“The ones who go deep,” she says, “but whose art is pure light.”)

Kath comes from a family of musicians in Connecticut. Her father, Robert Bloom, is a world-class oboe player and her mother, a non-professional cellist, was a music copyist for such unmistakably American composers as Virgil Thomson and Carl Ruggles.

In 1974, when she was 22, Kath began to sing and play in bars, but with no sense of musical direction. Three years later, she met Loren and they began to work together. Kath also became involved in theater, creating an acting troupe, writing some pieces for the stage, and studying with Herbert Berghoff in New York City. But music – especially music made with Loren – drew her more and more.

A further index of the scope of her influences – though her sound and grace and fire are no one else’s but her own – is this list she gave me: “Casals, my father, Nathan Milstein, Maria Callas, Robert Johnson, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Lester Young, Charlie Parker.”

The way she works with a song, she adds, is to so get into its spiritual essence that “the song disappears and there is just music.” As for the almost uncanny, seamless interplay between her and Loren, she says: “Loren and I have worked, loved/hated for long enough now that his guitar is inside me. I know it like my own voice, and when we play there is a definite union of tone that occurs.”

Loren Mazzacane is also from Connecticut. He is musically self-taught, having absorbed recordings by Robert Johnson, Son House, Robert Nighthawk and Blind Willie Johnson.

His immersion in music is so total and palpable that describing his intensity in words is redundant, but a record review Loren wrote of an old Son House record does particularly illuminate his own life-in-music. He spoke of that blues singer’s “total dedication to the material.total expression.voice and instrument one.true urgency.”

And, as music critic and historian Martin Rosenblum said of Loren, he produces music “that is uniquely rooted in Black Earth with the Blue Sky as its only limit.”

There is only one other thing I want to say, at the moment, about these two. There are people, a good many people, for whom music is only incidental. Background for drinking or eating or whatever. Then there are those for whom music is vital to staying fully alive. And if they’re not able to hear music for a couple of days, or worse yet, a week or two, they look depleted, quite depleted. The latter folks will, I think, find Kath and Loren essential henceforth to their well-being. And some of the former, if they stop long enough to listen, may discover in this music more of their own souls.

And you can’t say that about much music these days. Or any days.– Nat Hentoff

Author: James McQuiston

Ph.D. in Political Science, Kent State University. I have been the editor at NeuFutur / neufutur.com since I was 15. Looking for new staff members all the time; email me if you are interested. Thanks!

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