THE KRAUSE FAMILY – A Letter to Mother
You can purchase this recording here.
There are studies that show that when musicians play together in a group their brainwaves are synchronizing to some degree. The effect has been shown to amplify in the case of family members. No research on music’s effect on brainwaves will be needed to appreciate the sheer beauty, emotion and melodicism that pours out of A Letter to Mother, a nearly flawless recording that certainly ranks with the best to come out of our fair city.
Paternal member Rick Krause wrote the bulk of A Letter to Mother’s fourteen tracks. He claims to have had his first band at age seven, imaginary or not, and has been playing music all his life, drawn to the Beatles in the mid-sixties. His mother was a pianist and his grandfather was a fiddle player. They passed on a love of Gershwin and roots music while he grew up in Missouri. The symbiosis of both those influences are principal catalysts to a style that defies genre classification. It’s not just folk, not just roots, not just bluegrass, not just jazz or pop, not just traditional; it’s all of these things and more. How extremely rare then, to hear these sound vibrations that pull directly at the human heart that can only be described as music.
The family portion of the ensemble that created this recording is completed by Rick’s two daughters: Vocalist and pianist Kathleen Krause and violinist/violist/vocalist Ruthie McQuinn. Scott Wright, a talented, classically-trained pianist is the other band member. They are joined in selected spots by bassist Pete Pagel, percussionist Jim Spransy, guitarist Brad Duesler and vocalist/ fiddler Blaine McQuinn.
The core family members have been playing together in some fashion well before the siblings were in their teens and the Krause Family Band (with Wright) has been active as a unit for a little under three years. Recordings include a six-song, all original EP entitled Just a Few, released in 2013, and a full-length CD, A Bright Sunny Day, released circa 2006.
A Letter to Mother was recorded at Audio for the Arts with Steve Gotcher, a project tailor-made for the facility. Mastering was done by the maestro, Tom Blain. It’s hard to imagine how any improvements could be made to the sonic palette or to the arrangements. There is a live “room” feel and the instruments and voices blend and breathe, heaving and sighing like one organic unit. The instruments give way to each other so seamlessly in the instrumental passages that the transitions are barely noticeable.
Each of the songs bears comment so where to begin? How about the title track which explicates the albums themes of war, love, death, grief and loss. Here the open guitar chords successfully convey the thoughts of a dying civil war soldier left behind on the battlefield. There’s heartbreaking beauty in the vocal harmonies. Rick delivers the verse vocal with haunting gentleness while Katherine sings the choruses to contrasting but equal effect. Wright’s piano pines sweetly until Ruth’s violin seeps in to add to the conversation while Pagel’s bass provides spacious gravity to the situation. It sounds like how dying there would feel and that is just masterful art.
Then there is “Willow Don’t You Weep,” another ode to a civil war casualty full of sorrow and longing and with a timeless quality, a trait that carries traditional songs down through the ages. Ruth’s violin is a shimmering ornament to the piano at the foundation of the song. Rick must surely be a buff as the use of the lyric “Antietam took my love so true / in 18 & 62” inspires an internet search for its origin.
One of two songs written by Ruth is “They All Prayed for Rain,” an exquisite harmonic vocal exercise featuring a fantastic violin solo. Here again, the descending vocal refrain “They all prayed for rain” mirrors what the falling rain would feel like in desperate straits. It’s a short 2:48 of sheer emotive power. Her other contribution is album opener “Cross the Road.” It has a decidedly Irish feel with an extended coda that could be described as a jig, Ruth and Blaine McQuinn provide dual strings while Blaine chips in a strong lead vocal.
Each song brings a bounty of melody and “Baby She’s a Leavin’” is another gem featuring Rick’s vocal and guitar, an undulating, complex lead line shifting with some interesting chord changes. “Two Dreams” has the poetic majesty of prayer; a gorgeous vocal duet by Rick and Katherine – a love song dripping with honeyed overtones.
There is contrast to the balladry with the joy, hope and bounce of “I’ll Wait,” which has Rick playing some mean harmonica while the chorus is a memorable three-part harmony; ear candy in the vocal fashion of the Everly Brothers…if they had sisters. “Gone to Ottawa” has a smoky, jazzy feel with a funky vibe and more thick vocal harmonies. The country lilt of “Come Back Lil’ Darlin’ and the rootsy banjo-driven “The More I Learn” are leavening to the heavier subject matter.
The variety, inventiveness and completeness of A Letter to Mother is stunning. As a vocal group the Krause Family are hard to match. As songwriters they bring ingenuity to the chord voicings and much like the Beatles – and displaying the influence of Gershwin – they employ that unexpected turn in the chord progressions and melodies. As instrumentalists they bring a rare confluence of confidence and delicacy. This is stuff of a quality that goes beyond preference; in other words it doesn’t matter to which genre you might be an enthusiast. That’s the germ of great music; it speaks directly to something deep, no matter the medium.