(2012 Requius R0001)
Dust is the third solo release and the second full-length recording by Beth Kille. The former Clear Blue Betty frontperson did a six-song EP in 2009 titled This Beautiful Beast, a tentative step forward from the shadows of her former band. 2010 saw her release Ready, which would have been an apt title for this current album. Listening to Dust it occurred to me that Kille is indeed ready.
There is a reason that artists like Kille have armloads of MAMA and other awards; that they are wildly popular and can draw large crowds, specifically to big events such as CD-release parties; and that they are able to raise $11,000 on Kickstarter to fund their projects and, hence, their careers. Granted, Kille is fortunate to have a stable household where she can focus on her music but she also became a mother in 2011 and that hasn’t slowed her output, commitment and drive. But I have known this woman a long time and written about her too. She’s one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever come across and the fact that she donated some of the money she raised on Kickstarter to charities speaks volumes about the kind of person she is. She’s allocated loads of time to establishing a Chick Singer chapter in Madison as well as a Girls Rock Camp organization, an undertaking that brings her immense satisfaction. She’s a board member for the Madison Area Music Association and take it from me, that is no small task. When the MAMAs needed a music director, she stepped up. She also has participated in countless songwriter workshops and retreats and to attend a Beth Kille performance is to likely be personally – and genuinely – thanked by her as she rolls through the crowd afterward. In short, it’s not about her and this is a very important distinction.
Dust is a collection of songs that were written in 2008 and 2009 while Kille was with her husband (and drummer) Tony in Houston where he was doing his medical residency. She took that opportunity to hone her writing and expand her network. One track on Dust is a Clear Blue Betty re-do from 2004 and one is a cover of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.”
What makes these songs hang together so well is that there is a clear evolvement in style. Kille now effectively straddles pop, country and Americana while always sounding like herself; a milestone that many artists strive for and never reach. While the production by Jake Jonhnson and Paradyme Productions is outstanding, the performances by the supporting cast make the star shine. Whether it’s the limitless taste of Chris Wagoner who provides a wide variety of acoustic instruments and lap steel, the impressive and restrained guitar work of Michael Tully, the sweet pedal steel of Leroy Deurster, or the totally in-the-pocket timekeeping by Tony, these well-crafted songs just lift off. Particularly notable is the vocal blend between Kille and Jessi Lynn. If Kille had the opportunity to take this configuration to the next level, there is no telling how far it could go.
“Dead Man in a Dream” starts things off on a strong note, establishing the depth of the lyrics and the relaxed yet earnest vocal delivery. “I Can’t Love You Anymore” is a stunning ballad of love lost while “Not That I Don’t” recounts the Killes’ difficult struggle to achieve parenthood. “End of the Line” delivers the somber subject matter of child abuse with an ironic pop chirpiness. What makes songwriting a true craft is the departure and return (the bridge) and these songs have that in spades. Then there is the glorious pop of “Wonderful” where Wagoner’s accordion and Lynn’s vocal harmonies are sublime. Not everything is nice and pretty, either. The title track is the album’s heaviest with haunting verses punctuated by banjo and dobro and a chorus that thuds with fuzzed-out guitar. “I’ve Been Accused” is a totally radio-ready slice of country-rock with Jake Johnson providing some cool wah-wah guitar solos. “Idlewild River” also rocks harder and Kille really cuts loose on the vocals here.
There are some who don’t believe the words “music” and “career” should be mentioned in close proximity. That’s fine for them but anyone with an open mind knows when something is well done, whether it’s their cup of tea or not. Dust may be precisely what Kille leaves her beloved Madison in and that would be fucking awesome.