Monday, April 3, 2017

Chris Bathgate and Jeff Milo Write a Letter about a Song by Audra Kubat

Welcome to our 6th installment of letters shared between Jeff and Chris Bathgate, where correspondence is not explicitly chatty - but instead charts each individual track from singer/songwriter Audra Kubat's Mended Vessel...

Audra is currently performing (and recording new music) with a trio: Kubat, Finlay and Rose - which features singer/songwriters Tamara Finlay and Emily Rose. That trio is joining another folk trio, the Sweet Water Warblers, on Thurs., April 13th at Otus Supply in Ferndale (more info)

Here we go: "Kalkaska"

Chris! Pedal Steel!!!

Ya know... We can hear drum machines used by bands and not immediately think hip-hop or techno... But why is it this instrument immediately/inevitably/incontrovertibly brings up "country..." Or "Americana..." for me... A lot, I find, of writing album reviews is that you find your exploring your self, as much as you are exploring the artist ostensibly under examination. It's your own preconceptions and possible boundaries of consideration that get expanded, when you can hear a sound or a sentiment through a different filter or from within a fresh frame.

So, pedal steel! What I love about this song is that it feels, to me, like a "country" song for Michiganders. You'll remember from your Ann Arbor days that one didn't have to get to Mackinac to be "up north...," it was a general term, an inside joke or a minor urban myth of sorts, that even Mt. Pleasant was far enough away from yours and my own lower I-94 strip to be considered "up north..." Kalkaska is rural, and considered by some "a village..." nestled cozily and pastorally in the shadow of more glamorous towns like Traverse City or Charlevoiix. It seems like a sanctuary spot, a place for quiet refuge, away from the madding crowd--as it were... And that's the ideal setting and circumstance, in my estimation, for a country song. A place with farm land and fences where you can sit upon at sunset with a sprig of straw chewed at the side of your mouth as you think things over, all peaceful-like. I love the imagery of those countless stars over her head, away from the light pollution of an urban center.

It's a song about love... You could call it a love song, but, with the way the lyrics go, I'd rather just call it a song about love.  "I know about love..." she sings, "a real true love..." And it's a love that speaks to her in true and honest words. This song, like a couple of the handful we've gone through, seems to be in that searching for settling mode, again; eager for a remedy to restlessness and girding ones self against the tender tempest of things always changing, slowly, day to day...
So. Yeah. Not a country song. Not really.

Eager for your thoughts  :)


Dear Jeff,

I share your exclamations; pedal steel forever!

I love this theory you put forth about being a listener/reviewer. In analyzing and thinking about artwork, you are forced to uncover your own blindspots. Yes, preconceptions get brought to the surface, but something else as well, for me.  I think when art “connects” I have to look at something being identified as important in my own life. It seems when I identify something that “speaks” to me, it's always on the hinges of self. So, in a way, it feels like a mirror. Yes, and all the good and bad that mirror brings.

Back to exclamations, maybe I should get to speaking to the pedal steel and 1/3 back beat in this song, “Kalkaska”. Is this a square and rhombus moment? I think its safe to say this song's spiraling pedal steel licks and driving beat place it safely in the country song category, in timbre and feel.  It’s center though, lyrically, is love, yes. And yes, It does feel like a totem in the honorary Michigan landscape-song heritage. And yes, there is downstate perspective of a dreamy agrarian North–at least there was in my downstate youth. Now that I’m thinking about it, this song’s facets of being are plentiful. But overall, i think you’re right. This Love song has a Country / Americana backbone.

I’m interested in one of these facets specifically, one of these identities this song could have. I’m thinking of this song as a landscape based narrative. Go with me, lets just consider that a species of song: landscape narrative. There’s some magic in a story that seems to be a part of a landscape, using a real place as a marker for an experience or moment.  As both a purveyor and a listener, I appreciate this. As a creator you get to inject a certain reality into your song; as a listener you get detail and a mythic totality that comes with physical places.  You know, whether this is a candid poetic account of Audra’s life, a character's, or her grandmother's, the imagery and actions laid out here lyrically drum up a lot happy and bittersweet memories, of walks out in the tall grasses of rural northern landscapes–perhaps that’s my mirror. I feel like I’ve been in this song in both narrative and imagery.  But this story, this specific one, as you’ve stated, is about ideas of love just as much as its about a specific love.  It’s about time, just as much as it is about moments.

A long time ago I was asked a really good question by Gabrielle Benzing of OndaRock about a T.S Elliot quotation that plays into what is happening here for me on “Kalkaska”. I have to give her credit for bringing it into my mind. Here’s the quotation:

“The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words,
a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion.”

–T.S. Elliot

I think of this more simply as: don’t just describe how something felt, describe the why, or what details drive it. That’s what is happening here, for me, on this dripping country romance. This song’s moments of aphorism are placed on a bed of detail, after I've experienced a story develop. The listless heart of this song's speaker being cooled by a love, in a specific place, in a specific moment, with self awareness of all of that, reflects parts of my life I value. Maybe this is why I love songs so much, they help me exhume ideas, thoughts, and feelings of value not currently at mind. It’s an incredible exchange to have. When thinking about your theory Jeff, I find it strange yet encouraging to wonder: what is and is not in the hands of the artist?

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