“[Kim Richey] would rule the charts in a land where Marshall Crenshaw was king, Aimee Mann queen, and the The Beatles never put out another record after Revolver.” Steve Horowitz, popmatters.com
“Richey entices you with sad and unembellished music that reveals an original spirit – and then she ensnares you for keeps by making you consider all the noiseless sensations that no songs can ever contain.” Timothy White, Billboard Magazine
Those artists who find themselves stuck in the deepest of ruts two decades into their careers could learn a thing or two from veteran singer-songwriter Kim Richey. She’s never been afraid to go where the inspiration is.
Two-time Grammy-nominated Kim is a storyteller; a weaver of emotions and a tugger of heartstrings. Tender, poetic and aching with life’s truths, Kim’s songs transport you to her world, where words paint pictures and melodies touch the soul. And then there’s her voice. Pure, arresting and honest, it makes you take notice; Kim has the kind of voice where if emotions were ribbons, they’d be streaming in rainbow colours from your iPod.
Early on, the Zanesville, Ohio native thrived on the progressive side of mainstream country, her albums (1995’s Kim Richey, 1997’s Bittersweet and 1999’s Glimmer, all on Mercury) showcasing twang-pop sensibilities, a rich, rounded vocal tone and effortlessly sophisticated songwriting that other discerning performers – Radney Foster, Trisha Yearwood and Pam Tillis to name a few – coveted for their own recordings.
In the years since, Kim has made her subtly psychedelic album Rise (Lost Highway) in Los Angeles with producer Bill Bottrell, flown to London to enlist the help of Giles Martin and emerging with the crisply orchestrated Chinese Boxes (Vanguard) and turned to her East Nashville-based bandleader and frequent co-writer Neilson Hubbard to conjure the earthy indie-pop feel of Wreck Your Wheels (Lojinx/Thirty Tigers) and to complete her latest masterpiece of smart, sensual understatement Thorn In My Heart (Lojinx/Yep Roc).
The array of top-tier guests on the album include Jason Isbell, Wilco’s Pat Sansone, My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel, Will Kimbrough and Yearwood, who was, for the first time, returning the harmony-singing favor. And the dozen songs themselves show that Richey’s still dreaming up fetching melodies that arc and bend in unexpected ways, and still discovering fresh angles from which to articulate matters of the heart.
Since first planting roots within the Canadian music scene in 2011, Ken Yates has steadily grown a reputation as one of the country’s brightest singer/songwriters. His sound offers the complete package—unforgettable melodies, emotionally charged storytelling, and top-notch guitar chops—all gloriously displayed on Yates’ new album, Huntsville.
Produced by Jim Bryson (Weakerthans, Kathleen Edwards, Oh Susanna), Yates’ second full-length effort is a major stylistic step forward, with its 11 tracks capturing his artistic evolution amid extensive touring over the past three years. Along with handling production duties, Bryson’s abilities as a multi-instrumentalist were fully deployed during sessions at North of Princess Studio in Kingston, Ontario, leading a band that included Brian Dunne on guitars/vocals, James Preston on bass, Marshall Bureau on drums, and guest vocalist Amanda Rheaume.
For Yates, the stars were aligned throughout the creation of Huntsville, beginning with a balanced mix of road-tested and brand new material amassed before hitting the studio. Yates’ only pre-conceived notion for the album was to move forward from his last album and let Bryson put his years of experience to work.
“After playing some of these songs live, you start getting attached to how you think they should sound,” Yates explains. “I originally had in mind that this would be mostly a solo acoustic record, but I told myself going into the studio not to be too precious about my own ideas. The best part was, with that in mind, I was able to let go of some of that control and told Jim to run with it. He’d say, ‘Let’s try things my way and if you don’t like it, we’ll press the mute button.’ But I loved all of his ideas, and that’s when I understood what a great collaboration it would be.”
“Keep Your Head Down,” with its subtle, driving groove, opens the album like a train pulling out at dawn, with vast, open vistas lying ahead. Those come into focus on other key tracks such as “Once More To The Lake,” “Roll Me On Home” and “The Best Part Of Leaving.” Yet, everywhere on the album, echoes of the Canadian songwriting tradition, from Gordon Lightfoot to Bruce Cockburn to Ron Sexsmith, are apparent, proving that with Huntsville, Ken Yates is ready to join that exalted company.
Choosing to name Huntsville after a song he’d written about a small northern Ontario town is a further indication of Yates’ musical vision. “It’s a place that I love,” he says. “A lot of the songs were inspired by what you could say was a northern Ontario landscape, but that song in particular is about leaving everything behind, traveling up north and staying there. After I wrote the line, ‘If them mornings don’t shine how you like, find a night to dream into,’ I felt like it represented the whole album in way, which is why I decided to make it the title track.”
A native of London, Ontario (a few hours’ drive south of Huntsville), Yates studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. His first release, The Backseat EP, came out in 2011, whereupon he got a chance to showcase for fellow Berklee alum John Mayer, who responded with a lengthy blog post that read in part, “Ken Yates wrote a song called ‘I Don’t Wanna Fall In Love.’ This song moved me when I first heard it, and it still does today.”
That track became one of the standouts on Yates’ 2013 full-length debut, twenty-three, made after a year of pounding the pavement in New York City. It also became his introduction to the life of a touring musician, and his diligence in that area soon built a devoted group of admirers, one town at a time.
“At this point, touring still feels fresh to me, and at least half the songs on Huntsville came out of experiences I’d had on the road,” Yates says. “Going back to some of these places kind of feels like visiting old friends now. I’m still mainly playing solo, but making this record has really motivated me to start playing more—and hopefully bigger—shows with a band.”
Ken Yates is a rare example of someone who, from the beginning, had clear intentions when he embraced the troubadour life, and the combined drive and talent to make it a reality. With Huntsville, he has now closed the chapter on those early days, and is ready to open a new and exciting one, without any limits holding back his artistic ambition.