Kathy Mattea

Untasted Honey

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In many ways, Kathy Mattea's Untasted Honey is about as close as she's ever come to recording a bluegrass album. Of course, it's not bluegrass; it's more like Nash Vegas grass. The appearance of players and singers like Tim O'Brien, David Schnaufer, Ray Flynn, Ray Flacke, and a host of others suggests Mattea is sticking close to the roots formula. Her reliance on songs by O'Brien, Fred Koller, Don Henry, and Pat Alger also directs the mix in a certain direction. With producer Allen Reynolds and backing vocals by O'Brien, Beth Nielsen Chapman, and John Thompson, this set is consistently fine. All of the songs seem to segue into one another, creating a tapestry, or a series of snapshots placed together in an album. "Untold Stories," a flashy stomp & roller with the influence of Bill Monroe haunting the background, is a hell of an opener -- especially with the mandolin and guitar solos. The Nelson Brothers' "Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses" is a song Rodney Crowell wishes he would have written, and as storyteller here, Mattea is so deep inside the story it's difficult to tell if she's recording a story or giving the listener a recounting of something that happened to her. "Late in the Day" is another O'Brien winner, full of rambling pedal steel and entwined acoustic guitars. Other standouts include the title track, with a virtual choir of backing vocalists and the punch of Bob Ray's voice. This is the most '80s neo-trad country track on the set, and it works. The funky country blues of Pat Alger and Mark D. Sanders' "Like a Hurricane" has that high lonesome ring to it, and Mattea's voice -- which is so large you can hear it echo within itself -- was created to sing a tune like this. In all, this is solid for such a young effort; the selection of tunes, particularly near the end of the record, falls apart, but there's plenty here to engage even the most casual of listeners.

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