TRANSCEND THROUGH BEING MUSIC Kath Bloom

The Connecticut chanteuse has an impressive cast
of celebrity fans. When it’s all said and done, though, she’s just trying to
get through her day.

 

BY STEVEN ROSEN

 

“I don’t have too much time,” Kath Bloom says, rather
startlingly, explaining her recent efforts at emergence as a vivid, active
presence on new records and at concerts after decades of being more a musical
rumor than actual fact. She has a new record, Thin Thin Line.

 

“I’m 56 years old; I’ve got a lot of issues. It gets to be a
little bit scary when you get to be old. But at least I’ve got the music, when
I can do it.”

 

The unusual wavering vibrato quality in her singing voice –
with its uncanny ability to simultaneously straddle uplift and melancholy, pleasure
and regret, youth and maturity – can give a folk-rock-tinged love song the
introspective complexity and wisdom of a life’s journey. That’s why the use of
her “Come Here” in the record-store scene of Richard Linklater’s 1995 Before Sunrise makes it such a key
moment in one of that decade’s best romantic movies.

 

It was also a moment Bloom, busy raising a family with her
husband Stan Bronski, a carpenter and guitarist, was unable to capitalize on.
The daughter of a concert oboist, she had made extremely indie records in the
1980s – mixing folk, rock, jazz, country and blues – but the 1990s were a
struggle. When people asked to hear more by her after Before Sunrise, there wasn’t much opportunity. She was otherwise
engaged, sometimes struggling financially, with day-to-day involvements. But
she did continue writing. And she stayed in the music world tangentially by
teaching at after-school programs as well as classes for mothers and babies.

 

Music is something she has always loved, and she feared
losing the connection. “I liked everything,” she says. “I loved Richard Rodgers
and show tunes – I knew every word and tune in West Side Story. I was really a musical freak. I
loved Bach and Beethoven and Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and The Who. I liked
it all. And Neil Young and Joni just changed my life. And I’m absolutely nuts
about Maria Callas. She sang with every fiber of herself.”

 

Now, in the last couple years, Bloom has finally begun to
get new and reissued recorded work out there. An exceptional album of new
songs, Terror, came out in 2008 on
Australia-based Chapter Music, which also reissued several of the records she
made in the 1980s with her then-collaborator, guitarist Loren MazzaCane
Connors. (Two double-disc sets have come out.)

 

Last year, Chapter Music also put out a tribute album to
Bloom’s work, Loving Takes Its Course, attracting as contributors younger singer-songwriters attracted to the tuneful
honesty of her music – Bill Callahan, Devendra Banhart, Scout Niblett, Mia Doi
Todd, Mark Kozelek, and more. (A second disc included Bloom’s own versions.)
And now, Kozelek has released, on his Caldo Verde label, another new Bloom
album called Thin Thin Line. It’s
more evidence that Bloom’s power of observation, and fearlessness about
expressing her most intimate feelings, has if anything grown with the anxieties
of aging.

 

There are songs here that would impress Joni Mitchell with
their poetic sensitivity, as “Another Point of View:” “I lay my man under the stars/and I don’t ask who we are/I don’t ask
why, I don’t ask how/Will someone try to give me now/Just another point of
view/Cause I’m dying without you.”

 

The title song features her singing a transfixing jazzy rock
number that builds in Astral Weeks-like
urgency, as the lead acoustic guitar and violin and take turns building the
tempo. It also finds her at her most compellingly yearning as she pushes her
voice high to accommodate her need to sing out about her search for meaning: “Well it’s hard to remember where you
been/When you’re in the kind of shape I’m in/But where I’m going it’s not a
sin/If you want to come along, just hop in/It’s free.”

 

Bloom has also been performing and touring more to support
her music – doing a recent jaunt to England and looking into summer festivals
here and abroad. As she talks about all this, from her Connecticut home during
a phone interview, she expresses the same mixture of hopefulness and
trepidation that makes her music so singular. She knows she needs to perform
more – and she knows it’s difficult.

 

“If I was making money doing it, it’d be fantastic – I
always have a great time playing,” she says. “It’s just that the coming back
afterward, breaking even or losing money, is very tough.”

 

Kozelek’s relationship with Bloom started after he recorded
“Finally” for the tribute album. She sent him a copy of Terror and he liked it, especially the song “I Can’t Handle It.” He
invited Bloom to open for him and then offered to put out her next album.

She had already been recording material. “Anytime I put
something out, it’s just me doing it on a shoestring,” Bloom explains.

 

Working out of the Connecticut house of violinist Tom
Hanford, with Fran Patnaude on guitar, she cut “Thin, Thin Line” and a few
others. But those sessions abruptly stopped. 
So Bloom worked with Marty Carlson to find appropriate material for the
rest of the album. “We started digging stuff out of the archives – and I still
have tons more, too,” she says.  

 

Her powerful material draws omens good and bad out of
everyday sights and occurrences. “Watching
the wash wave in the wind/How did we start, how will we end,”
she sings in
the brooding “Dangerous Days.”

 

Structurally, the songs have memorable melodies that
highlight Bloom’s imagery and often lead to rousing, sing-along choruses that
are just plain catchy. It’s a quiet album, but it rocks out – as in “Back
There” when she sings, “If you get your
engine running/I will meet you down the road/You can tell by how I’m coming/I
don’t need that heavy load/I left it back there.”

 

Bloom acknowledges some of the album’s songs address
difficult subject matter for her. “I work out a lot of despair in my music, no
doubt about it,” she says. “But anything can change when you work at it,
especially if you join up with other people. Then it turns to joy.

 

“That’s the hope of it, the faith of it, anyway,” she
continues. “I don’t want anyone to tell me it’s too heavy. If it stays down,
it’s heavy, but I hope it starts to transcend that through being music. And if
it doesn’t, I’m sorry. I’m just trying to get through my day, too.”

 

As Bloom begins to seek concert dates and tours, it’s been
hard for promoters and bookers to classify her work. It can be seen as both
folk/Americana, a handle that appeals to an older crowd, or as more
acoustic-oriented alt-rock, which skews younger. She admires as a model
singer-songwriter Callahan, because he “works from the inside-out and comes up
with some very compelling things.” She also admires the newer folksinger
Josephine Foster, with whom she’ll be performing in New Haven in April.

 

“I think a good artist just makes their own thing happen,
whatever their roots are,” Bloom says. “I mean, we’re all connected – all of us
cross paths at some point.”

 

 

 

 

 

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