Kathi McDonald

Above & Beyond

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McDonald is well-known and revered as the great background singer for Ike & Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones, and countless others. Though essentially a rock and R&B belter, she's been singing blues with Long John Baldry and lately, the group Seattle Women. Here, she asserts herself full force, proving she's lost absolutely nothing from the '70s, and in fact that she has gained a richness and purity while still equipped with a truly great, gusty, flexible range and a powerful, crystal-clear set of pipes that has frankly always made Janis Joplin sound like a piker.

Within laid-back, simple beats per measure, McDonald proves time after time that she can conjure intensity by not relying on upbeat tempos. She's at her very best on the following songs: the slow rock/R&B number "A Soulful Prayer," with help from Lee Oskar on harmonica and Jim Colie on tenor sax; a rejected lover's rock ballad "Girl, You Don't Move Me" with a soul-stirring performance from Oskar and a bluesy piano from Ed Vance; and "I Put a Spell on You." This last piece includes Brian Auger's burning organ on a typical arrangement and it's made great by the aforementioned veterans and guitarist Doug Scott. The title cut is a slow gospel blues with Vance and backup singers, while acoustic, finger-style, 12-bar picking blues from guitarist Nick Vigarino informs McDonald's growling voice for "Don't Give up on Me," and the easygoing "Georgia Sunday Morning" has Auger in a jazzier framework. Auger goes into vaudevillian tones on piano and overdubbed organ for the blues/rock/funk of the cut that offers the most fun, "Stray Cat," with Vigarino's slide. The hardest blues edge is sharpened on the laid-back, 12-bar "Dallas." There are also more blues/rock ballad excursions during "Ain't It Wonderful?" and "Two Drifters." The former of these two is stretched instrumentally courtesy of Vance, second keyboardist Norm Bellas (who accompanies on the last five tracks), Colie, Oskar, and guitarist Rick Dangel; the latter repeats the phrase "like a refrain in a love song always remains/sustains." McDonald wrote the title cut, "Girl," and the country-type waltz "Chicken Today, Feathers Tomorrow." There's also a poorly produced, live club-date version of "Season of the Witch" which most listeners will end up wishing would have been done in a studio.

Those who are curious should seek out McDonald's 1974 recording "Insane Asylum." For others, this will do just fine, because Kathi McDonald is the undisputed, uncrowned queen of blue-eyed soul. The release of this very fine CD should finally set the wheels in motion for her overdue coronation.

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