Coming a little late to this one but it’s not something a blues lover should miss out on. Nova Scotia’s Kim Doolittle’s “Into the Blue,” is Kim’s ninth studio album and there is much to recommend it. Of the eleven tracks included – and they are all worthy – seven really caught my attention.
The first track is like a tray of hot cookies out of the oven and it’s the title track “Into the Blue.” Kim has that magical Bonnie Raitt quality about her performance and vocal. Does she sound like Bonnie? Yes and no. She has Bonnie’s tonal quality but Kim is her own woman and possesses wonderful vocal power. Kim has a way of singing with a stride to her words and a growl that is inserted almost subliminally as she glides through the melodies. Her band is tight like a knot in a sneaker and they definitely understand the blues – and in Kim’s case – the melodic blues. Chris Whiteley’s harmonica (he also plays the trumpet) is featured in this first track but all the musicians shine brightly. This is a great introduction to a polished artist – and that may be her only drawback. She may be too polished for the blues. But who cares? The performance is genuine.
Track two is a minor-key tune — “Under the Memphis Moon,” and this one reminds me a little of the dirty-blues from the powerful Blue by Nature vocalist Karen Lawrence. To be in Ms. Lawrence’s territory is to be a great female blues singer. This track has wonderful storytelling lyrics and it’s all punctuated with colorful soulful horns and a guitar sound from Jimmy Browskill that is straight out of the Stax history books. Kim sings this song with nice sexual overtones and her intensity is high gear. The arrangement is wonderful as well.
I am on track three and this one reminds me more of Tracy Nelson (Mother Earth) yet, Kim Doolittle is still Kim Doolittle. She has style, grit and continues to maintain that polish that I sometimes worry about. Because the blues is a pain, suffering, sadness, jealousy, melancholy and Kim is just so bright in the way she performs.
Yet, a listener can still be amazed because on this song her sheen is brilliant in how she tells the tale of “Let Love Be Your Goal,” with its slinky horns and her trudging bluesy vocal – all coming together with such professionalism. Kim lets loose with more economical growls and it all works and it’s all in the right places. This is a great song – her ability to keep the shine on her material yet maintain a modicum of authenticity in her blues on each note is waxed and thick and…marvelous.
Up next is a more Los Lobos influenced with a little Texas Tornados feel. “Poor Boy (Oh My My)” is accordion (no credit on my copy to anyone) driven and Ken’s slide guitar is impeccable. This is one of the most uplifting songs. Quite Doug Sahm inspired. This is a delightful alternative turn for Kim and it maintains her creative diversity. This is one of my favorites in the collection.
The ballad “Let the River Run,” is standard fare but what is impressive is Kim’s terrific reliable vocal. One of her finest single vocal performances and the song does have a special meaning for Kim. She holds notes clean and powerfully with ease. Credible violin work (John Snowden) and the entire performance by the band is unified. The classic traditional Gospel tune “Amazing Grace,” follows and it’s a cover that takes a different turn as well in the hands of Kim.
The old traditional tune has a little touch of the late Eva Cassidy and I happen to like the creativity that Kim applied to this chestnut. When the band and Hammond B3 kick in it takes on an essentially evocative spiritual grip on the listener. Kim’s occasional growl with the soulful backup singers is inspiring. Kim has succeeded in taking a dusty song and making it new again. Ken’s slide guitar is bracing, followed by a beautiful Pat Carey saxophone solo. The entire production is packed with significance and Kim’s vocal soars at the end like a church choir lead singer. It’s enough to inspire a seated Aretha Franklin to get up and join Kim it’s that good. The finale is brought down to a slow dirge and adds a soulful foundation to this moving melody. Kim may be a blues singer but she proves here that she can sing Gospel and Spiritual with a fervor. Maybe someday Tracy Nelson will sing a duo with Kim on this and really shake up the congregation.
With steady Bucky Berger percussion on the intro of “A Friend in Need,” and with pumping unified horns – Kim explores the hot side of a Maria Muldaur crossed with Bonnie Raitt. This is Kim at her finest – disciplined and funky and her horns are up to the task. This is a showstopper of a track and almost sounds like she has the legendary band Little Feat behind her and that Stax Recording studio sound delivered with all its Memphis soul intact. If I were Bonnie Raitt I’d steal these songs from Kim Doolittle.
This is a first-class trip through that magic that Robbie Robertson and The Band sought – all Canadians except for Arkansas drummer Levon Helm. This is what that fine unit wanted and needed to capture. “It Just Don’t Work Like That” has that Band feeling with those solid Allen Toussaint type horns (“Rock of Ages”). A little lite jazz and it has a juke joint guitar solo courtesy of Suzie Vinnick channeling a nice Les Paul feel that warms up the crawfish and keeps the foam on the cold mug of beer. It all works with the low-key funk that keeps the song down and dirty and jukebox friendly.
“Long, Long Way from Here,” is a sturdy, steady ballad and Kim simply sings it in a simple fashion surrounded by a web of mandolin and guitars. All the instruments used here keep the melody warm and essential. Emotion is the key to this vocal and I really enjoy the way Kim pronounces her lyrics. She has sincerity in her vocalese and the mandolin (Radim Zenkl) lends such clean organic support to the electric instruments. Despite its slow balladry, Kim’s performance is disciplined and she keeps it interesting throughout its almost five-minute time.
Through many of these songs, Victor Bateman and Ben Whiteley lay down chiseled upright and electric bass and keeps each song anchored tight. Ken Whiteley plays multiple instruments throughout the album. Amoy and Ciceal Levy add the wonderful backup singing.
The closing song “Some Loves Never Leave,” shows Kim’s dynamic diversity because on this song I hear the genius and excellence that was Jackie DeShannon in her showcase. Many remember Jackie as a top 40 singer who had several hits in the 60’s but in reality, she was a remarkable, ahead of her time singer-songwriter who released albums that were astonishing in their depth. Along with Jackie, I would add that there’s a touch of the serious side of songwriting and singing of the legendary Bobbie Gentry. Gentry had many songs that were far better than her hit “Ode to Billie Joe,” and she had a crack band that was superb. “Mississippi Delta” and “Fancy” (covered by Reba McIntyre) come to mind as some of her essential songs.
The song was dedicated to the late blues singer-guitarist Jeff Healey (who was the guitarist and singer in the Patrick Swayze movie “Road House” and Jeff had several hits of his own). With this song, Kim has tapped into a rich reservoir of style that’s to be admired. Kim is in that small circle of female singer-songwriters who are just that significant. They show a virtuosity that is admirable. The eleven-song 44-minute album was Produced by Ken Whiteley and Kim wrote many of the songs with musician co-writers who contributed to this album.
The CD art is a four-panel color package with a stitched lyric book with all the credits.
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John Apice / No Depression / February 2018