Kathy Kallick & Friends- Dodi Kallick What Are They Doing in Heaven Today? review

Kathy Kallick & Friends- Dodi Kallick What Are They Doing in Heaven Today? Live Oak Records www.KathyKallick.com and https://kathykallick.bandcamp.com/album/what-are-they-doing-in-heaven-today

Over the last fifty years, few bluegrass singers, songwriters, and performers have received less acknowledgement for their groundbreaking perseverance than has California’s Kathy Kallick.

With all due respect and realizing she has received awards (a Grammy and a pair of IBMA nods), Kallick has not been held in the same regard by the general bluegrass audience and industry as have several of her contemporaries and those who have followed in her path. I am informed that the Kathy Kallick Band albums have done well on the Bluegrass Unlimited charts, but I do not frequently encounter her music on satellite radio and other bluegrass broadcasters. One hopes What Are They Doing in Heaven Today? will bring greater attention to Kallick.

Since founding the Good Ol’ Persons in 1975, Kallick has released over twenty albums along with some 150 original songs. She has led her own Kathy Kallick Band, has toured the globe, and has mentored many. She is also one of the warmest of bluegrass personalities, affable, keen, and wise, and has collaborated with some of the best, including long-time friend Laurie Lewis.

More than twenty years ago, Kallick paid tribute to her folk-singing mother’s influence releasing My Mother’s Voice, a collection of songs pulled from Dodi Kallick’s folk repertoire, songs Kathy heard her mother singing. A formidable set it remains; the album revealed the foundation upon which Kallick built her bluegrass career. Following the discovery several years ago of recording of Dodi’s performances, Kallick has chosen to further define her mother’s legacy with What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?

This is a themed album with rather clear parameters. The first disc contains new recordings with Kallick and a variety of bluegrass and old-timey folk friends, featuring songs again drawn from her mother’s experiences. Completing the set is a second disc containing a series of songs featuring Dodi Kallick performing (mostly) solo with dulcimer in the mid- to late-60s in Chicago.

Kathy Kallick grew up in Illinois where Dodi was an early participant and instructor at the Old Town School of Folk Music. In the liner notes, Kallick writes, “ My mom’s pure, high, flawlessly in-tune singing earned her a fan base and a following, but she was mainly unknown outside of the greater Chicago area. While her influence was solid, and, of course, had a huge impact on me, she was not on any records, didn’t tour, and slowly moved to teaching more than performing.”

The archival recordings contained within the 24-minute bonus disc reveal these qualities captured in 1966 and/or 1969 tapings, as well as a take of “Down in the Willow Garden” recorded with Hobart Smith (fiddle) in 1963 and a live recording from a Frank Proffitt Memorial Concert (“My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains”) in 1966. The majority of the songs are familiar, and they provide a pleasant insight into a formative period many of us missed. Dodi Kallick’s interpretations are enjoyable, and they can be considered a gift through time.

The central component of What Are They Doing in Heaven Today? is a further nine songs from the Dodi Kallick songbook, interpreted to the stellar degree we have always encountered within Kathy Kallick recordings. A series of guests—friends really—are featured including  Mike Compton and Joe Newberry (“Farther Along”), Jim Hurst (“Jimmy Brown, the Newsboy”), and the impeccable Molly Tuttle with a guitar and vocal duet on the album opening “Put My Little Shoes Away.” I’m not a student of Tuttle, but I absolutely love the sound she coaxes from her guitar here, playing guitar in a clawhammer style…something I never realized was a thing.

Taken individually, each of the performances is noteworthy and deserving of repeated radio play, but collectively they further reveal the benefits of bluegrass kindness—treat your colleagues and friends correctly, and they’ll find a way to shine for you.

Mandolin ace Tristan Scroggins (“Sittin’ On Top of the World”) appears, and Laurel Bliss (Dobro) and Cliff Perry (guitar) vocalize with Kallick on the Carter Family’s “Little Moses.” The Kathy Kallick Band are twice featured. “Footsteps in the Snow” is given a full and impressive bluegrass treatment; it includes an original verse often excluded. The Kathy Kallick Big Band, augmented by Paul Shelasky (fiddle) as well as Kallick daughters Juniper Waller and Riley Thompson (vocals) shine on “The Wild Side of Life/It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” Annie Staninec, the KKB’s fiddler, joins Kathy for “Handsome Molly,” a standout number among an album replete with such.

Given my biases, it is not surprising that the highlight for me is the title track performed as a vocal trio between Kallick, Suzy Thompson (guitar) and the living legend, Laurie Lewis (fiddle). That’ll do! This is the first time they have joined as a recording trio and the intimacy of their harmonies, born of friendship, is spellbinding.

Bluegrass folk, pay attention. Kathy Kallick remains one of the music’s most inspiring voices and personalities. While Dodi’s voice was missing from My Mother’s Voice, she is given prominence here, reminding us that without guiding influence music doesn’t continue.

Crossing generations, What Are They Doing in Heaven Today? provides a Time Tunnel effect for this listener. We are taken back to the folk revival of the 60s via the archival recordings. The song selection across both discs takes us back even further. The participants provide a wonderful cross-section of today’s brightest bluegrass voices and approaches alongside more veteran members, those who have shaped the music for years. In some ways, it is like a living room guitar pull, friends trading off songs (to an incredible level of performance) bound together by Kathy Kallick’s timeless voice and faultless vision. And from the other room comes Mother’s voice…


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