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Rolling Stone: Kathy Mattea on New Album

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Monday October 01, 2018

From Rolling Stone

Kathy Mattea on New Album, Voice Struggles, Grappling With Loss
By: Stephen L. Betts

“Ode to Billie Joe” feels like a natural fit for this record because there’s darkness and mystery to it, but it absolutely draws you in. Do you remember when you first heard it?

My mother kept the radio on all the time. We had a little clock radio that lived in the window of the kitchen, on the windowsill above the sink. It was playing all the time. I think it was either there or in the car where I heard it. It stopped you in your tracks. She sort of has that languid thing, like the bossa nova singers. It’s just effortless and easy and Southern and sexy and bluesy, all at the same time. Bill calls it Southern Gothic. I’ve always had an alto voice, but there’s a richness in the low end that was not there when I was younger. I couldn’t have probably done this song when I was young, or it would have lived in a lighter way. But there’s some gravitas to it now. I pulled out the lyrics and we started fooling around with it. It just fell out. Like finding the perfect pair of jeans or something like that.

Mary Gauthier’s “Mercy Now” was already an incredibly powerful song, but considering where we are as a country, it’s even more poignant now. What has been your own personal experience with the song?

At their best, songs make us feel so not all alone when we’re going through something that’s really hard. They make us feel connected when we’re feeling joy, or whatever we’re feeling. I think I had been aware of the song, but I hadn’t ever really sat down and listened to the whole thing. I always knew about Mary, but that song did not live as a full entity for me. I was visiting with this very interesting man, Parker Palmer, who’s a writer, kind of a guru in higher education. I had done some teaching and someone sent me to a workshop of his. He was one of the first people to publicly write about clinical depression. He went through a really bad time and was telling me they took all of the guns out of the house, everything. His wife was terrified he was not going to be able to take it anymore and be gone one day, by his own hand. He told me, “One of the things that got me through was just listening to ‘Mercy Now,’ over and over. I thought it was time for me to get to know that song then. Through that season, through some mutual friends, I wound up being in the company of Mary a bunch. We sort of developed a little friendship. When things started to unravel culturally, I found myself listening to the song all the time.

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