To hear singer-songwriter Kathleen Grace’s singular, sophisticated take on country music is to hear an artist coming into her own. Her new, career-defining album, No Place to Fall, is set for national release May 13, 2014.
No Place to Fall’s ten tracks were recorded at Los Angeles’ Carriage House Studios, produced by Sheldon Gomberg (Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Ryan Adams, The Living Sisters). The album features performances from pedal steel wizard Greg Leisz (Eric Clapton, k.d. Lang, Amos Lee), jazz guitar virtuoso Anthony Wilson, acclaimed singer-songwriter Patrick Park, and indie-folk singer Leslie Stevens.
Long known as one of jazz’s rising stars, Grace has three albums to her credit. But in the years since her 2009 release, Mirror, Grace has planted her jazz roots in the soil of classic country music. No Place To Fall marks Grace’s emergence as a mature singer-songwriter, as well as a daring song stylist. Praised as “smart, alluring and evocative” by The Washington Post, Grace boldly presents her own dynamic original music alongside revelatory covers of artists as diverse as Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt and The Meat Puppets. In a move that captures the immediacy of the musical interplay, all songs were tracked live in the studio.
With material both new and old, Grace charts her musical and personal journey on record. Kathleen’s Tucson Arizona roots provide the inspiration for her original songs on No Place To Fall. “I’m On Fire” evokes the moody textures of Joni Mitchell and Alison Krauss, the lyrics playing upon the imagery of a burning desert campground to convey what she says is “the feeling of taking on someone you love’s pain and agony” with barely contained tension. Country waltz “Fine Young Woman,” on the other hand, is a heartbreaking biographical take on the artist’s mother, ruing the loss of youth in contrast with the embrace of family: “For my life, it is not my own now/my babies are counting on m/ my life it is not my now, a mother can never be free.” The album’s haunting closing track “Goodbye” finds Grace meditating on abandonment, dissecting the love and pain behind the act: “My time has brought me to my knees/I’m begging you, please, let me go, let me leave/Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.”
Her exquisite choice of covers often explores the same terrain. The opening title track, a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “No Place to Fall,” appears in loving tribute to the singer’s longtime husband. “No one talks about love the way Townes does in that song,” says Kathleen. “It resonated with me – the idea of loving someone so much you could let them go if that’s what they needed.” Greg Leisz’s majestic pedal steel glides behind the passionate, melancholy exploration of a long-term romance: “If I had no place to fall/And I needed to/Could I count on you/To lay me down?” Grace’s take on Phoenix country-punk heroes Meat Puppets’ “Plateau” involved a total makeover, with the artist re-voicing and restructuring the tune’s psychedelic depiction of her home state. “For me, even though the lyrics are oblique, that song perfectly captures the surreal angst of Arizona life,” she says.
Grace proudly demonstrates her versatility, as well as her journey from jazz to country, with a deliciously honky-tonk take on Tin Pan Alley standard “Blame It On My Youth,” and a steel guitar-tinged remake of Duke Ellington’s classic “Mood Indigo.” And, in one of the album’s most delicate moments, Grace and co. deliver a gospel-influenced performance of Tom Waits’ “The Briar and the Rose,” featuring the artist in three-part harmony with special guests Jamie Drake and Leslie Stevens – all singing into the same microphone.
Born and raised in Tucson, AZ, Kathleen Grace began to discover her voice after a move to the San Francisco Bay Area. Grace fell head first in love with jazz after meeting a neighbor and eventual mentor, vocalist Molly Holm, an alumnus of Bobby McFerrin’s Voicestra. Forgoing all previous career ambitions, Grace steeped herself in the study of the art form, eventually heading to Los Angeles to pursue a master’s degree in jazz studies from the University of Southern California (where she is now a faculty member). She began singing at clubs and formed a combo, with whom she released three acclaimed independent albums, earning accolades from The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and JazzTimes etc.
After a life-changing experience while listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” at the behest of legendary vocalist Nancy Wilson, Grace began to challenge herself as a composer, shying away from standards and writing her own songs. She found new inspiration in the music of country legends such as Kitty Wells, Dolly Parton and John Prine, struck by their recordings’ song craft and musicianship. “For me, it was organic” says Grace. “I felt a completely natural connection to country music, both in spirit and sound.” Soon, new avenues were opening to the artist – and a musical mindset of her own devising emerged, one that seeks to find the truth in every song no matter it’s origin.
Over the last ten years, Grace has performed high-profile gigs around the world, including the Montreux Jazz Festival, an official SXSW showcase, and festivals in Europe, South America and Asia. From Tucson to Los Angeles, from jazz to country and everywhere else in between, No Place to Fall tracks a journey of musical awakening that’s only just begun for Kathleen Grace.