Kathy Mattea wears her heart on her sleeve with her new album
A Midwest morning October snowfall She packed her Chevrolet And she brushed her fear away She’s got a great big dream And a history of playing small She hit that highway With every ounce of faith she could summon When courage finally comes You never see it comin’
—"Right Outta Nowhere,” Kathy Mattea
Kathy Mattea’s latest offering, Right Out of Nowhere, might be her most personal to date—dealing with issues like the death of her parents and a strained marriage to songwriter Jon Vezner. The time-tested country/folk/ gospel singer, known for such hits as “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” and her cover of Nanci Griffith’s “Love at the Five and Dime,” is currently touring with her longtime bandmates, guitarist Bill Cooley, multi-instrumentalist Randy Leago, bassist Rick Blackwell and drummer Jim Brock, and new band member fiddler Fred Carpenter. Before her upcoming tour stop at Laxson, the amiable and talkative Mattea spoke with the CN&R recently by phone from Nashville.
Christine LaPado: The title song of your new album, “Right Outta Nowhere,” is written by [Asheville, N.C., folk singer] Christine Kane. I love Christine Kane.
Kathy Mattea: She’s a great songwriter and a cool singer.
“Right Outta Nowhere” is a beautiful song.
Yes, it is. I related to it from lots of points of view. The song talks about “playing small.” So many of us do that, play small because we don’t want to put it on the line. It’s the challenge now for me in my 40s to continue to live like that [putting it on the line, taking risks] always.
I read that your new album is based on some very personal experiences, such as your marriage [of 18 years, to songwriter Jon Vezner] almost ending recently.
It’s been an interesting period of my life. In the last five years, my parents passed away. Chronic illnesses finally took their lives. My mother-in-law passed away. … The emergency room doctors in Nashville know us on a first-name basis! … My marriage became strained from all sides, but ultimately I found my way through it. … I didn’t really know how to love somebody, how to not place demands that he make me happy. … What I think of marriage [now] is both completely the same and completely different [than before our marriage crisis]. I feel reborn.
The song “Love’s Not Through with Me Yet": “Can you love without needing… Can you open your heart without bleeding … “
There’s so much squeezed into that song. I told Darrell Scott [the songwriter, who also sings back-up on it, along with Suzy Bogguss]: “Pal, you’ve got to live some life to tell that story! That [song] does not come out of your head. That comes out of experience!” … You know, that’s the paradox…the tension between how not to demand things of your partner, yet not to deny what you need out of a marriage.
You’ve got [gospel singers] the Settles Connection singing back-up on some songs. They sound great.
Those guys are the real deal! Odessa [Settles] is the daughter of one of the Fairfield Four, the legendary black a cappella group that’s been going since the ‘30s. They all sing in church. The thing that’s nice is that they have that family harmony, that long tradition. I heard Odessa sing at a party on New Year’s Day. She sang an a cappella chant called “Goin’ Home” that only had two words. The place ground to a screeching halt! That was an ancient voice that came through her.
You do [spiritual] “Wade in the Water.” It sounds like you guys are just having fun with it live, kind of like you’re all jamming on it at certain points.
That cut is basically live, with very few overdubs. You’re not looking at some pristine creation. I want you to feel like you’re just in a room listening to a jam. For me, I got to a place vocally that I’ve never found before. I was not in my head. Afterwards, the guys just looked at me and said, “Where the hell did that come from?”