October 22, 2020

Stand by for the first

Stand by for the first non-Passion related blog entry in a couple of weeks.

Kathy Mattea in Concert. Brown Theater. Louisville, Ky. Friday, March 5, 2004.

When I told one of my co-workers I was going to see Kathy Mattea, he said, “Isn’t she a has been?” I said, “Probably, but then look at who’s considered currently popular. I prefer the has-beens.”

For those who missed country music in the 1980’s, Kathy Mattea had her moment in the sun. Winning two Grammys, two CMAs, A female vocalist of the year and a song of the year for “Sixteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses.” Mattea opened last night’s apparently sold out show at the restored Brown theater with that familiar country hit. From the looks of the audience, Mattea’s fans are mostly in their 40’s now, like her, and with the exception of a fan who asked Mattea to do “Independence Day,” a Martina Mcbride song, are devoted to her recordings without consideration for popularity or radio play. In other words, we are “has beens” too, and not worried about it. (BTW- former Louisville Coach Denny Crum was in the audience! A nice treat for me.)

With a career that dwindled during the 90’s, Mattea did the smart thing and quit her major label contract rather than endure endless reworkings and eventual rejection. Moving to minor league status on Narada Records, Mattea was free to do what she does best- pick awesome songs, regardless of genre, and turn them into her own. Last night’s show wandered through styles ranging from Celtic to the Stones to anti-war ballads and upbeat Gospel numbers. In all her music, Mattea shows a devotion to great acoustic style, and a respect for song-writers. Though the show was heavy on material from her new album, Roses, Mattea made it clear that her concerts are showcases for great songs and great musicians. She did not disappoint.

Country music is ridiculed by most of the young and old hipsters these days, but that is their loss, because Mattea demonstrated that what is called “country” today is really a mixture of American musical styles and sources, all interpreted through a primarily “country-influenced,” acoustic music style. Carried by superb musicians playing dozens of different instruments, Mattea’s strong alto voice made every song richly accessible to those who might not usually just “sit and listen” to more traditional “country” sounds. It’s grown up music; its deep and spiritual. Mattea isn’t afraid to do music that will never be heard on a country station, but it’s also obvious that the “acoustic/roots” movement is Mattea’s loyalty.

It was interesting to hear how Mattea brought her faith into the concert. In contrast to contemporary Christian artists who seem to think that real life can’t be particularly God-honoring, Mattea wove in expressions of her faith naturally into songs that told many different kinds of stories. It’s my guess that Mattea is Catholic, because (among other things) her faith is expressed in the sort of healthy balance that Catholic artists seem to come by naturally, and the Protestant CCM community can’t seem to find. From songs that were couched as prayers to the profound theology of “Mary, Did You Know?,” to the wry humor of “That’s All The Lumber You Sent,” to the outraged, “My Mind Is Not A Junkyard,” Mattea’s faith is unmistakeably there, offering to the audience a way of looking at everything from heartbreak to war through God-centered eyes. She may be an Oprah-ite underneath it all (she recently did a performance of “The Vagina Monologues”), but I was one Christian who felt blessed by her artistry and openness to ask us to relate to the God of Jesus.

Mattea is energetic, attractive and funny. She has a good time, and though she is clearly not a Republican, she didn’t preach politics. Many of her songs are upbeat sermons to self: You can make it, even though you’ve been through tough times. It would appear that in her blessed life, Mattea learned enough tough lessons to know we could all use a lift, a laugh and an encouraging word. She may be a hippie at heart, but somewhere along the way,she’s learned to be an entertainer, a story-teller and a wonderful balance between professionalism and spontaneity.

Kathy Mattea was great, and I hope we can enjoy her wonderful music again. She has a new fan.

(BTW- Mattea makes great Christmas music. Get both her Christmas record. The first, Good News, is one of the best Christmas recording I could recommend. We’ve loved it for years.)