Kathy Mattea

Walk the Way the Wind Blows

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Oh yeah, 1986, when Kathy Mattea was still a country singer, she was one of them, the "new traditionalists" at that point in time, before she became such an awesome pop singer. Walk the Way the Wind Blows is the rootsiest (in the American sense of the word) album Mattea had recorded up to that time. With a cast of players that included progressive bluegrass upstart Béla Fleck, country legend Don Williams, Wendy Waldman, Buddy Spicher, up and comer Vince Gill, bass king Bob Wray, and a slew of others, Mattea took honky tonk songs, shimmied them up against bluegrass energy and funky horns ("Train of Memories"), and came up with something entirely different. And while it's erratic in places, Walk the Way the Wind Blows is a fine outing overall. It's on the funky, rocked-up or old-timey down swing jazzers like "Evenin'" where the disc works the best. Her ballad singing hadn't gotten to the place it did just three years later; on "Reason to Live" it falls a tad flat, and the stirring conviction of her later singing is not yet in place here. The one exception is her cover of Nanci Griffith's "Love at the Five and Dime." Its pacing and restraint -- courtesy of expert production by Allen Reynolds and Don Williams' harmony vocal -- make the song a mind movie. Mattea's vocal tells the story as if she is looking back on her own life instead of being a reportorial account of fictional characters. The refrain with Williams is chillingly beautiful, as if, now old and gray, they are singing to one another in the moonlight. The stellar dobro and Cajun accordion carry the lyric into the stratosphere on "Back Up Grinnin' Again." Mattea found a formula; restless as she is, changing direction and producers so often, she didn't stick with it long. Nonetheless, Walk the Way the Wind Blows is one of her better efforts.

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