by Rob Wilson
from The Subway web site)
This Veteran’s Got Grit ‘n Grandeur
The following dialogue is a totally imaginary conversation…but
it coulda happened!
Scene: Famous Rock Producer’s
Time: The Present.
Producer: So, for how long have you been singing
professionally, Ms. McDonald?
KMc: Oh, more than 30 years, I guess. It’s been a
while, a lot of tours, a lot of studios.
Producer: And have we heard of any of the artists
you’ve appeared or recorded with?
KMc: Probably, lessee…. Leon Russell, the Quicksilver
Messenger Service, Rita Coolidge, Nils Lofgren before he joined the E-Street
Band, the Stones...
Producer: You mean - that’s the Rolling Stones?
KMc: Yeah, I sang back-up on EXILE ON MAIN STREET….
uh, I also was featured with Joe Cocker, Ike & Tina Turner, England’s
cult favorite Long John Baldry, Delaney and Bonnie, Dave Mason, Freddie
King - and after Janis Joplin went solo, I took her spot with Big Brother
and the Holding Company.
Producer: (sound of gasping, fainting middle-aged
male - clutching resume and partially chewed Ybor City cigar - hitting
the parquet floor).
If experience equated with wealth, Kathi McDonald
could give George W. Bush a run for his campaign bankbook. But Kathi’s
been content to offer solid "shadow" support, ducking the limelight to
help make other good performers sound even better. She’s had a handful
of solo efforts prior to ABOVE & BEYOND (Merrimack Records), but none
as consistently pleasing, pleading and powerful. She wails and teases,
snarls and soothes, filled to the gills with bluesy bombast, alternating
tender sympathies and an emotional Earth Mother’s self-awareness / assurance
Vocal technique comparisons to Phoebe Snow, Tracy
Nelson, Bonnie Raitt and Kate Taylor are inevitable here. But estrogen
relationships have little to do with Kathi’s worldly professionalism and
it’s the overall quality of the Joe Melinkas/Lee Oskar production that
makes this disc spin several magnitudes shinier than most. Tasty musical
touches are liberally sprinkled throughout ABOVE & BEYOND – Lee’s juicy
harmonica riffs, UK legend Brian Auger’s time-tested keyboards (with some
seriously soulful organ fills), whiplash guitar, and a dollop of polished
Tracks which jump out front ‘n center include a deeply
felt "Georgia Sunday Morning," a languid-but-intense take of Screamin’
Jay Hawkins’ "I Put a Spell On You," and a live dub of Donovan’s neo-classic
"Season of the Witch" (which, if memory serves, bandmate Auger has previously
covered with Julie Tippett). There’s not much that can be described as
upbeat – no raucous Z.Z. Top boogie to bop down the blacktop by. But the
residual sensation evoked from Kathi & Co. is the finest feeling that
vintage R&B and blues can summon - one of an enticing, enveloping smoky
glow, simultaneously infrared hot and inherently, indefensibly cool.