Cape Cod singer Kathleen Healy takes a road less traveled by many who are preoccupied with a more popular approach to their music. Commerciality. Years ago, many female-specific singers braved headier subjects. Norma Tanega, Ruthann Friedman, Melanie Safka, Judee Sill, & others. There are singers today that do try equally to sing of family, misplaced blame, addiction, marriage, love challenges, longing for home, the fragility of life, anxiety. Yet still, Ms. Healy’s sprays a light mist of optimism through her new Embracing the Journey (Independent – Drops Nov 1st).
Though not a distinctive a voice like Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, or Emmylou Harris – she does possess a clear, expressive folky tone. Perfectly suited to storytelling songs. This is where comparisons to Ruthann (“People”), Judee (“The Kiss,” “Jesus Was a Cross-maker”) & Norma (“The Street That Rhymes With 6 a.m.”), are most expressive.
“Enough,” has plaintive acoustic guitar/piano with a slight classic Judith Durham vocal style (The Seekers). Losing a battle with addiction – that alone is quite a strong song perspective. Lyrics are typical, some cliched, but this helps make Kathleen’s message readily understandable to an average listener. So, it’s not a drawback. The secret to her music is clever — it’s the music. Played expertly.
A definite Ruthann Friedman vocal style is effectively on “Speaking Out.” For those unfamiliar with Ruthann’s work – she wrote the famous 60s Association hit “Windy.” She had one Warner Brothers LP proper that was filled with unorthodox tunes. Kathleen strongly resembles Ruthann’s approach but does not imitate – how could she? Kathleen probably never heard of Ms. Friedman.
An upbeat, delightful “Keep Comin’ Back,” has no showboating by Ms. Healy – she’s strictly a singer in the true sense. Obviously, the message is the importance of her performance. This is reminiscent of material by Norma Tanega (“No Stranger Am I,” – covered by Dusty Springfield & “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog,”).
Kathleen (vocals & guitar) is supported by producer Jon Evans (bass, keys, lead guitar, tenor guitar, mandolin); Randy Patterson (mandolin, lead guitar); Bill Kwaak (drums); Katy Boc Nickerson (fiddle — “Vagabond”); Mark Erelli (vocals on “Small Things”).
The 12-track, 42-minute LP is of a personal nature. Her melodies are often memorable with touches of classic melodies from other sources (“Gift From My Mother”) the most obvious. Nonetheless, the tune is a beauty, with excellent sound. A playful tone to Ms. Healy’s voice — ala Nanci Griffith. (True, as well of “Slip Away”). Most effecting.
“Old Man Winter,” changes direction. Kathleen’s stylistically solvent with atmosphere, but the finger-popping diminishes the mood. The guitar & voice sustains it. This needs a below the radar mournful trumpet or baritone sax. This should be in the same clever manner as the late genius vocalist Diane Izzo (“Venice,” – on ReverbNation). Kathleen does – but then back to Frank Sinatra finger-popping. Let a mandolin finger-pop instead. This is a great song…consider a retool. Build with Diane Izzo bricks & not plaster.
Kathleen is a valued folk singer. She steps into big shoes. Has sincerity, poignancy & warmth to her repertoire. She isn’t yet political – yet.
She seems to prefer the importance of family, friends, unions & reminding all of us — life is worth living.