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How Kathy Mattea Got her Groove Back

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Monday January 14, 2019

From The Irish Times

How Kathy Mattea got her groove ‘” and voice ‘” back
By: Siobhan Long

West Virginian native, Kathy Mattea has carved her reputation as an ace interpreter of other people’s songs over the course of three and a half decades now, and her instincts for a good song are as keen as ever. The songs on her latest album, her first in six years, Pretty Bird, include some fearless choices from the back catalogues of Mary Gauthier, Bobbie Gentry and Dougie MacLean. But lurking behind that long hiatus between albums is what she calls her ‘long dark night of the soul’ ‘” a period where she feared she would never sing in public again, as her voice began to morph in ways she never anticipated.

‘You know, the truth is that Pretty Bird didn’t really show up as an album, ‘ she recounts, on a call from her Nashville home. ‘I was just trying to get through something and these are the songs that got me through it. If you can let go enough, the creative process will show you what to do.’

Mattea talks animatedly about learning to sing ‘into the nooks and crannies’ of this new swathe of songs she’s chosen. Mining everything from the great American songbook (October Song) to down home tales from the Louisiana bayou (Gauthier’s Mercy Now), she let the music pave the way through what felt like a morass ‘” at the time.

‘It was excruciating while I was in it,’ she admits. ‘It’s joyful now. Here’s the way I approached it. I thought, there are some people in my generation and the generation before me, who kept singing when their voice started to go downhill. I thought, I can’t do that. If I don’t feel like I can inhabit those songs in a way that’s still living, I don’t think I can do it. My first thought was, well, I’ll just quit. But then a voice rose up inside of me and said, ‘well, you can quit Kathy, but you can’t quit ‘til you find out. You can’t just quit because you’re scared you can’t sing. You have got to walk through the process of knowing and if you find out after that that you can’t sing well enough to enjoy it any more, then you can walk away, but you’ve got to walk through the fire first.’‘

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