Review: Kathy Mattea – Pretty Bird (Captain Potato, Sep 7)

I hear a lot of expression of disdain for long musical careers. “They’re too old now,” “they should have quit while they were ahead,” and the like. And I’d be lying if I wasn’t occasionally guilty of it too. But we forget that most of these artists are ultimately making music for themselves, so who the hell are we to say when they should stop or not? Luckily, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that legendary country singer/songwriter Kathy Mattea should cease her music making, and I sure hope she doesn’t any time soon. Pretty Bird, independently released via Kickstarter on Mattea’s own Captain Potato imprint, collects the artist’s performances of songs that “helped [her] reclaim [her] voice, and [her] joy in using it.” Mattea is certainly older now than she was when she made my favorite records — notably 1997’s Love Travels and 2006’s spellbinding Coal, the first release on Captain Potato — but her voice is equally as impacting and emotion-filled as it was then. The wear that so many years of passionate singing has put on her vocal cords is palpable, but through retraining old habits Mattea uses this aging to her advantage, harnessing a chocolaty richness that is, fittingly, immediately apparent in opener “Chocolate on My Tongue.” The arrangements are simple, mainly consisting of guitar, minimal percussion, and the banjo of producer Tim O’Brien, and couldn’t support Mattea’s voice in a livelier, more buoyant way. As always, Mattea makes these songs her own, and the rich intimacy might bring you to tears more than once (it’s definitely not just me, right??).