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Kathy Mattea: The Bard of West Virginia

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Monday February 24, 2014

From The Schenectady Daily Gazette

Impressive Mattea shows she’s bard of W. Virginia
By: Michael Hochanadel

…On Saturday at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Mattea displayed impressively courageous artistic growth since her mainstream country stardom, retaining the strengths that burnished that star: a gorgeous voice and unerring intelligence in choosing songs that make the most of it in sound and sense. She has become the bard of her people and her time.

Mattea borrowed from Pete Seeger’s singalong formula, giving credit and noting (with admiration, not rancor) that he’d won a Grammy in a category where she was nominated, and she united the near-capacity crowd with her in a resounding and powerful chorus. She took her time creating this unanimous mood; at first the mountain dazzle of her band and the vocal flourish that elevated her nostalgic opening number awed more than enlisted. Guitarist Bill Cooley may be the fastest immobile-looking flat-picker around, David Spicher got (and earned) more solo time on Saturday than most bassists get in whole tours, and Eamonn O’Rourke colored inside and outside the lines with mandolin and fiddle zip. All but Cooley sang, and well, though none so well as silver-tongued Mattea…

…When fans called out requests, her tender, loving “Where’ve You Been” got the biggest shout-outs, Mattea joking she was no fool and would certainly sing it. She did, beautifully, but added a self-deprecating story about a county fair PA announcement stepping on its punchline. She closed with the mining lament “Coal Tattoo,” giving her band an extra stretch with a tasty Celtic coda. Then, after singing nearly two hours and fighting a cough early on, she encored alone with the Hazel Dickens classic “Calling Me Home;” no band, no guitar; just a great voice soaring in a great song.

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