CD Review: Susan Kane…A Word Child
Had I’d known of this artist and the album titled A Word Child that was released last November, it likely would have made my annual list of favorites. It’s not only that good, but far better than that. When something new comes my way, sometimes I’m taken by the songs, sometimes it’s the instrumentation, sometimes the vocals and always the vibe. Susan Kane has delivered on all fronts, far exceeding the expectations I had when she chose to reach out to me last week. We’re sort of neighbors in this Lower Hudson Valley I’ve recently moved to, a land rich in musical tradition and especially fertile for folksingers and acoustic players.
Susan is a member and past president of the Tribes Hill music collective, a group that includes several artists I had already heard of (Anthony da Costa, Abbe Gardner and Red Molly) and many, many more I’m now discovering. There’s a compilation called We’re All Here on CD Baby that showcases some of the members. This non-profit organization is “uniting musician(s) of the Lower Hudson Valley region and their patrons, in support of a music community that aspires to common goals and beliefs. It is a conceptual gathering place for people of all races, politics, and faiths coming together to explore and celebrate the human experience through song.” Some of the groups goals include creating public showcases, bringing music to schools, encouraging regional radio programs and “promoting the music of our independent artists through the support of patrons and the many resources of Lower Hudson Valley, as well as beyond.”
The first thing that caught my attention when Susan sent me the files for her latest album (she has also released two others: Highway Bouquet and So Long ), was that she covered two songs I knew well…”Loser” from the first Jerry Garcia solo album, and “Row, Jimmy” off The Dead’s Wake Of The Flood. “Jerry and Robert[Hunter] are deep in my DNA” she wrote, and as I’ve curled up with the rest of the album over these past few days, I’ve found myself feeling the spirit of the Dead surface and intertwine with her own songs. But the music goes far, far beyond just that touchpoint.
Susan’s voice is a beautiful instrument; both solid and soaring. When she lets the high notes fly, it feels like frost being thrown through the fresh night air. Her lyrics are sophisticated and intelligent, which I would imagine they must be with the album’s title being what it is. The songs are layered with seasoned and tasteful instrumentation and production values. Recorded primarily in Austin, Texas, the musicians include bass player Zev Katz, pedal steel artist Bob Hoffnar, percussionist Ben Wittman, vocals from Jess Klein, bass player Glen Fukunaga, drummer Marco Giovino from the Robert Plant Band, and others. It was produced by Billy Masters who she has worked with before.
Those of you who have been reading my posts these past four years, have heard time and again how much I dislike doing reviews, yet here I am once more. I tried to engage Susan to share some things, but she replied that “focusing on the music is fine with me…my personal story is very boring, I am happy to say.” Well…Susan, I believe that your story is pretty interesting. It took me a little while to find it on her website, but I’ll share with you what I found:
–She grew up in Waldwick, N.J., near the Paramus Mall. Her mother taught piano and her father was an aspiring actor who finally packed it in to sell insurance. When the Beatles hit America Kane asked for a guitar, and by the time she was in 7th grade she was leading her own folk music trio.
–Studied economics at Bryn Mawr College and kept up her songwriting on the side, graduating in 1975. After a stint at the European American Bank in Manhattan she moved over to the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company, teaching brokers and bankers in the Credit Training Program for several years before marrying and staying at home to raise three children. Not that she transformed herself into a soccer mom…she kept doing the corporate stuff on a project basis, and has been a “hands on” finance person in a bunch of nonprofits for years, including deep involvement in prison education programs.
–As her kids got older Susan started to feel the itch of performing music again. She helped start a Dead cover band, August West in 1998, and then worked in another outfit, Bad Dog, that featured some of her original songs. Coaxed into the singer-songwriter genre by her friend Sloan Wainwright, she has been a regular at Tribes Hill and the open mic scene.
Susan found me by reading a recent post I wrote about seeing Mary Gauthier, a show she attended as well. Mary is an artist who began her career at age fifty, and she’s someone that has inspired Susan’s latest journey. ”You do what you do,” she said, “and don’t look back if you can help it. I don’t view my corporate life as a sidetrack I shouldn’t have been on. For now, it’s great to be doing something new and challenging. I have a lifetime to draw on for my songwriting, and I’m making the kind of music where you don’t need a stylist to find an audience.”
I’ve sprinkled her songs throughout this piece, and I hope you take the time to explore more of her work. Her ReverbNation site offers quite a bit to stream. You can buy her albums on CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes and through her own site.
What you don’t want to do? You don’t want to miss the music of Susan Kane….she’s a very gifted artist.