erasing clouds

Kath Bloom, Thin Thin Line

review by dave heaton

”I will find a way to take on this world” – Kath Bloom, “Let’s Get Living”

In the last year or so, there were a Kath Bloom tribute album and reissues of 1980s albums she made with Loren Connors. Yet it would be a shame if that level of attention didn’t spread to include her most recent work, 2008’s excellent Terror and, now, 2010’s at least as impressive Thin Thin Line, released on Mark Kozelek’s Caldo Verde Records. The recoding choices made for the album – essentially, to keep things simple -- only highlight the distinctiveness of Bloom’s singing and her songwriting. Her voice can pierce right through you, her words intended to cut away some of the noise of the world and get down to some base elemental feelings and truths. That’s how her song “Come Here” worked in the classic record-booth scene in Richard Linklater’s film Before Sunrise, and how her songs work here. There are moments throughout that stop me dead in my tracks, even after a handful of times listening.

One is the third song, “Heart So Sadly”, right from its opening lines --“when I see you coming my way / I pretend I’m not at home / see you turn around so slowly / and I cry / I’m all alone” – and the way Bloom chooses certain words to sing in a higher, more fragile voice. It’s a song about love, longing and fear, with two intriguing detours partway through: one focusing on a square of light reflecting on a wall, the other a trip into the natural world, a reminder of things bigger than us and also the way things that come naturally to animals can come harder to people, who get caught up within their own mess of thoughts and feelings. “A heart proceeds so sadly when it is afraid to live,” she sings.

There’s a shattering song called “Another Point of View”. It’s a moment of desperation where she begs to hear another point of view, from God or someone, to get her to understand what’s going on. It’s tempting to use that “another point of view” phrase to describe Bloom’s songs and what they do to us. Her music at times comfortably embraces folk-music conventions (sing-along choruses or harmonies over acoustic guitars and harmonicas, evoking a hootenanny) or pop-music forms (“Freddie” is a great ‘50s-style crush song), but they always stand apart from tradition too. Her philosophical and visceral approach to writing songs leads to songs that probe and pierce fiercely.

A major theme of Thin Thin Line is taking steps forward without reserve, especially in matters of love and death (or life and death; the same thing, right?). I love the courageous feeling in the group singalong of “Back There”, everyone leaving heavy loads behind and walking forward down the road. Or “Let’s Get Living”, where she implores us all: “If we’re living / let’s get living / and if we’re dying / let’s just hope it’s quick”. There are songs about embracing the confusion of love (“Such a Tease”), about getting past heartbreak/loneliness (“Is This Called Living?”), about embracing love while your head fills with worries about injustice, poverty, corruption (“Long Ago”); about knowing all the terrible, tragic sides of love and still inevitably embracing it (“I’m Thinking of Love”). The album-ending song, probably my favorite, is defiant. It’s about not letting life break you. The title? “Not Through With This Yet”.


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