Good eveternooning to you! How, as I’ve been reliably informed the youth say nowadays, is it hanging? Precariously? Good…
Today’s recommended sounds come to you from the middle of nowhere. Ever heard the middle of nowhere before? No? Well, neither have many other folks. Few may have even realised there was music out there at all.
Well, it’s time to prove them wrong. Somewhere between the desert and the Sandia Mountains, so deep into New Mexico that there was little other than coyotes, military personnel and escaped extra-terrestrials, there dwelled a girl who would grow to become one of the finest songwriters and musicians on the planet.
Kate Mann is the creator of the kind of Americana that breaks hearts, steals souls, changes minds and inhabits brains long after it stops playing. Flawless tunes, immersive atmosphere, stunning vocal skill, captivating lyricism and more than a small helping of sheer genius combine to create some of the greatest music ever made.
OK, admittedly, I may have painted a slightly misleading picture of a musical prodigy completely alienated from humanity, creating something utterly removed from all outside influence. I can’t say this is entirely true.
In her young adulthood, Mann relocated to the musical hub of Portland, Oregon, playing in a string of bands before setting out on her own. Even then, however, music was a part-time affair, juggled with her chosen career as a high school teacher.
Her muse would not let her rest, however, and eventually, the sound of her true calling became too deafening to ignore. In 2005, she traded in her car for a van, fixed up her mother’s battered ‘63 Gibson acoustic, and hit the road.
Touring tirelessly throughout the Western states, she played everywhere and anywhere, winning over crowds from the most grizzled local barflies to farmers at cattle-markets.
Through hard graft and songwriting skill, her reputation has grown ever since, and in 2009, she was a finalist in the 2009 Kerrville Festival New Folk competition, and received an honorable mention in the International Songwriting Competition. Mann has also twice been a finalist in the Americana category of the Independent Music Awards.
All along, her talents have manifested themselves in ever more impressive ways. Though by no means a household name, she damn well ought to be. Rarely has anyone epitomised the spirit of American music so astoundingly as Kate Mann.
Essentially, she takes in everything great from the music of the Southern and Southwestern States and far beyond. Hers is a dark, expansive variation on the great American roots songbook, a dramatic landscape where the shadows are cast deep and long, and everyone you meet has a traumatic tale to tell.
Though largely acoustic-based, she effortlessly tackles the full gamut of styles and sounds. She can do country, but not your happy-clappy line-dancing hoedowns, rather gently strummed melancholy prayers for redemption or unbridled barn-shakers. She can do folk, but, rather than facsimiles of arcane tradition, she crafts paeans of pure, otherworldly beauty. She can do rock, with a devilish, dangerous Southern swing. In fact, there’s very little Kate Mann can’t do.
All the while, though, her gift for melodies that would put most pop artistes to shame, and her careworn yet immaculate voice, combine to create the perfect formula.
Even through moments of apparent levity, there remains a delicious undercurrent of turmoil and tension that gives fathomless depths to even the scantiest songs.
This heart-wrenching darkness perfectly compliments the sense of alone-ness- not quite loneliness, but something far more defined that most likely stems from the geography of Mann’s childhood home.
There’s a widescreen atmosphere, akin to the musical background of the best Western movie never made. You can sense the awesome looming of the mountains, and the incomprehensible expanse of the desert.
Kate Mann, however, was not dwarfed into insignificance by such statements of nature’s dominance over humanity. Her resilient spirit seems to have drawn sustenance from such elemental power, incorporating its unique atmosphere into her incomparable songcraft.
Mann turns the slight into the colossal, the ephemeral into the significant, through her playing, singing, and the kind of story-telling lyricism that lives the life that displaced Americophile Nick Cave wishes he’d actually had. The sounds of the old, weird America meet the indomitable hope of what remains of the American dream and weave some wondrous magic.
Unsurprisingly, Kate Mann has returned with her partner to the wilds of New Mexico, the scene of the enlightening upbringing she so clearly benefited from. By the sounds of it, she has returned to a deep well of inspiration, and will hopefully be blessing the world with her astounding, unique music for years to come.
Kate Mann is amazing. Full stop. Talent of her ilk does not come by very often, and she deserves to be treasured by millions the world over. Go find her music, and prepare to be astounded.
Dr A.F.W Curio