Kath Bloom and Loren Connors, both Connecticut natives, met in 1976 at New Haven arts venue The Theatre And The Space. Using his family name Mazzacane, Loren was playing in an improvised, experimental duo with fellow guitarist Tom Hanford, while Kath was an intrigued audience member. Loren, 27 at the time, worked as a janitor at Yale University, occasionally accessing the university’s music library after hours to absorb their collection of vintage blues 78s. Kath, then 24, had recently returned from a time living in Brattleboro, Vermont, and was studying acting in New York, making ends meet as a massage therapist.
The two soon came together to form a creative partnership. At first, their performances were based on drama and improvisation, with Kath acting out monologues while Loren played his attenuated free-form guitar, idiosyncraticallyÂ extrapolated from Mississippi Delta and Chicago blues. This early experimental phase is documented on their first released recordings, the 1978 albums Gifts and Fields. Taken from a live recording at New Haven’s Educational Center for the Arts, Loren’s guitar playing on Gifts is spindly and dissonant, punctuated by occasional guttural moaning, while Kath’s contribution veers between cackling, crooning and high speed recitation, with a brief spurt of recorder.
These records were released with handmade covers in editions of no more than 50 by Loren on his label Daggett Records, named after the street in New Haven where he, Kath and Tom Hanford all lived in loft apartments. Apparently it was a rough neighbourhood – Loren would sleep with a hammer in his bed, and the apartments were without heat, hot water or toilets. It was in this ascetic environment that Loren recorded his now legendary nine volume series Unaccompanied Acoustic Guitar Improvisations, released between 1979 and ’82 in similarly microscopic editions.
Over time, Kath and Loren’s performances became more song-based, taking the spirituals, blues and work songs of the American South as their foundation. Kath began to practise guitar regularly among the headstones of New Haven’s Grove Street cemetery, entertaining herself there so often that she was given a job by the groundskeeper. Loren encouraged her to play guitar and work on original songs, but Kath believes her development as a singer and songwriter came at least partly out of jealousy, frustrated at being left out of the musical process Loren was exploring on his solo albums.
From the outset, the music these two artists made together was tirelessly documented, although released in quantities so minute that each artifact became an instant collectors item. In the four year period beginning with a 1980 live cassette (which seems to have disappeared into the mists of time), Kath and Loren released ten or more LPs, singles or cassettes, first on Daggett and then Loren’s subsequent label Saint Joan. Kath also contributed the occasional voice, recorder or cover painting to Loren’s Unaccompanied series.
In 1981, 300 copies were pressed of the LP Hanford, Bloom And Mazzacane, a live recording made at the Chapel Arts Center space that the three friends ran together at the time. Dotted amongst renditions of old blues such as Blind Joe Taggart’s Been Listening All Day Long and Religion Is Something Within You, are original songs by both Kath and Tom, including such early Bloom gems as Fall Again and Biggest Light Of All.
Two seven inches followed,the instrumental Listen To The Blues and the live Pushin’ Up Daisies (one song from which is included on this reissue), before Daggett released Round His Shoulders Gonna Be A Rainbow in 1982. Another live album, Round His Shoulders saw Kath and Loren performing as a duo, with liner notes by Yale professor and folklore scholar William Ferris.
By this point the pair were playing occasionally outside of New Haven, and in 1982, Boston independent label Ambiguous Records approached them to record a studio album, only the second release for the label following an EP by Aimee Mann’s early band The Young Snakes. Sing The Children Over was the first Bloom/Connors document in high (or at least mid) fidelity, recorded in Watertown, Massachusetts with Ambiguous label boss Andy Breslau in the producer’s chair.
Acclaimed jazz critic and music historian Nat Hentoff, already a fan of Kath and Loren’s music from their earlier LPs, wrote sensitive, insightful liner notes and the album emerged in 1982, although due to distribution problems copies remained mostly unsold until being redistributed in the late 1990s. The album again mixed traditional folk and blues songs with Kath’s originals, but tracks such as It’s So Hard To Come Home and The Breeze/My Baby Cries revealed an increasingly accomplished and moving songwriter.
Sing The Children Over sets up the dynamic template that Kath and Loren would follow over their remaining recordings – Kath’s keening, fragile voice, her subdued finger-picked guitar, and Loren’s own guitar playing: abstract, skittering, sometimes atonal but always intuitively supportive. Together the duo created a sound almost impossibly emotional and haunting, one that despite its ties to the past is unlike anything created before or since.
Having been bitten by the songwriting bug, Kath’s output quickly became prodigious. She and Loren released three more albums, Sand In My Shoe, Restless Faithful Desperate and Moonlight, in 1983 and ’84, all on Loren’s new Saint Joan label in editions of 200-300 copies, and all featuring nothing but Kath’s original compositions. One of the recording sessions was financed by prize money Kath won in a songwriting competition for a local Connecticut radio station. As her creativity accelerated, so Kath’s songs became looser, more intuitive, with what Loren sees as a darkening of tone and an eventual abandonment of intent to shape the music.
Although they were now playing frequently in New York, Boston and around New England, Kath and Loren’s music in the early 80s fell between two camps. The experimental elements of Loren’s guitar playing and background vocalisation often alienated traditional folk audiences, while Kath’s songwriting was perhaps too straightforward to please more avant-garde oriented listeners. So on the whole, audience response was respectful but muted. There are disturbing reports of Loren throwing unsold Daggett and Saint Joan albums into a bin in the mid 80s. Now, of course, original copies of these records change hands for huge sums.
What’s more, by 1984 Kath was married and had a young son, and Connors himself was entering a new relationship. Although the two struggled to maintain their joint creativity, even forming a short-lived theatre troupe with their respective partners, they found themselves drifting apart.
Kath moved to New York, separated and then remarried, relocated to New Hampshire and then Florida, and had two more sons with new partner Stan Bronski. After her and Loren’s final album Moonlight in 1984, Kath did not release anything until a 1993 solo cassette Love Explosion, but then proceeded to develop a devoted cult following through the pivotal use of her song Come Here in Richard Linklater’s 1995 film Before Sunrise.
Loren also retreated from music for a period, focusing on other forms of writing until re-emerging in the late 1980s, often in tandem with partner Suzanne Langille. After experimenting with various pseudonyms such as Guitar Roberts, Loren Mattei, and Loren MazzaCane Connors, he adopted his grandmother’s name Connors once and for all after being bitten by a dog, citing the fact that Mazzacane means something like “kills dogs with a club and collects money for it.” In 1990, he and his family moved to New York, where they remain now. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1992, Loren continues to play guitar with a sense of urgency, based on the knowledge of a potentially limited timeframe.
Both artists have made wonderful and expressive music since their collaboration came to an end, but both also benefited immeasurably from their time together. Kath credits Loren for encouraging her, introducing her to art and for helping her to educate herself, while Loren believes working with Kath helped develop his ability to play in relation to another musician, after his stark and lonesome solo recordings.