I often tease audiophiles about their obsession with recordings of the female voice, especially when that’s all they want to hear. It’s not that I don’t enjoy female singers, it just seems provincial and dull when I’m listening to a particularly stunning piece of music and someone raises their hand in the back of the room and asks, “Do you have anything with female voice?” I’ve had my favorites over the last few years, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been bowled over by just the idea of a woman singing jazz, or any other genre, but that changed yesterday when I received Tie Me To You from singer-songwriter Kathleen Grace.
Usually I receive an album in the mail, listen to it once or twice, and then I let it marinate for a few weeks before I return to it. This didn’t happen with Kathleen Grace–I wanted to review it while my reaction to it was fresh. Tie Me To You is an eclectic mix of songs, both covers and originals, sung by a woman with a voice that’s immediate and stunning. I suspect those same audiophiles are attracted to their favorite singers because they’ve made that same instant connection. I get it now. But there’s more to Tie Me To You than just a lovely, memorable voice.
From the first song, the title track, Kathleen Grace’s vocals are enhanced by keyboardist Larry Goldings (James Taylor, Norah Jones and John Mayer), and he adds layers of piano, organs, pocket pianos and even a glockenspiel that detach these songs from any specific genre. What’s even more impressive is that the originality never wanes–even when it’s just Grace’s voice and Goldings’ piano. If this sounds busy, it’s not–for the most part these arrangements are simple but heartfelt, and Goldings’ style emphasizes just enough notes to convey his ideas. Add the occasional bass player (David Piltch) and violinist (Gabe Witcher), and Grace and Goldings are able to deftly cover the ground between pop, jazz, blues and even a touch of folk.
The story behind Tie Me To You is noteworthy as well. Kathleen Grace had just split with her husband, and in her sleeplessness she started thinking non-stop about all the music and poetry she had loved during her life. A theme emerged, one of ending a chapter and beginning another, and she contacted Goldings to make an album. Tie Me To You was recorded without rehearsals, and in some cases just one take. Each song is personal to her, everything from “The Thrill Is Gone,” to “Love for Sale” to “Follow the Sun” to a singularly haunting version of “What’ll I Do.” Her original songs don’t hide in the shadows, either–they’re smart and evocative. It’s all delivered in that voice, gorgeous and delicate with an incredible range.
So yes, I loved this album. It came out of the blue–to think I almost placed it in the review pile without listening. I’m glad I decided I had some spare time last night to discover Kathleen Grace. If you’re one of those audiophiles who obsesses about the female voice, you might have the same utterly surprising reaction I did.