CD Reviews 06 Dec 2014

north star sessions cd coverBETH KILLE AND ERIK KJELLAND – North Star Sessions

(2014  Stone After Stone)


You can buy the CD at the release party on Dec 12 @ Crescendo 7 pm $5/$6 at the door

It will also be available at CD Baby and iTunes.


Two of Madison’s most prolific and fastest-rising artists have teamed up to produce a holiday recording entitled North Star Sessions. The songs were recorded and mixed in Beth Kille’s home studio with mastering by Jake Johnson at Paradyme Productions. Like the best holiday recordings this one features original compositions rather than relying on worn-out traditionals. Erik Kjelland teamed up to co-write four new songs with Kille. Two tracks were self-penned by Kjelland with one contribution from Kille. The music is pretty straight-up Americana, focusing on acoustic instruments. The arrangements are stark, highlighting  song construction and vocals; in other words, two things these musicians do very well.

The pairing is a good one as the sentiments and sensibilities each of them express individually work well together. The original compositions concentrate on family, love and togetherness; private statements of longing that translate to universal recognition. There is a strong emotional element of detachment, road warriors trying to find their way home soon enough to celebrate what means the most to them and what gives them real strength, with an unstated knowingness that they’ll soon be back out on the lonesome highway.

Nowhere is this more effectively translated than on the opening track “North Star.” The lyrics sum up the mood of the album, the duo harmonizing over acoustic guitar, mandolin and also Kjelland’s harmonica which lends the proceedings a decisive mournfulness. “I just can’t spend Christmas Eve in a motel bed,” fighting through snow and ice down the long road home. This is just such a great reflection on how creativity can fashion isolation, Christmas song or not. The fact that it is a Christmas song lends it all the more urgency. Art Ranney’s melodically thick bass and Paul Metz’s understated drums provide the perfect emotional engine. “It’s a long road home / But I’ve got to carry on / Get back to where I’m strong / Back to your arms. / And if you were with me now / Our love could thaw this ground/ Carry it all around / and follow it home.” If you’re like me, you’ll be carrying this melody around in your head all season.

Things get more universal on “The Other 364,” a plea for the Christmas spirit to carry over to the rest of the year with Kille taking the lead.  It’s a sprite, jangly tune with a country bent driven by a lively banjo figure form the Dang-Its very talented Jami Simpson.

Kjelland’s poetic sensibilities come to the fore in “Over the Horizon” with stellar violin provided by Ida Jo and piano played by Shawndell Marks. It seems only he could write a line about flying home that incorporates “a fitted sheet of nimbus clouds below.” It’s a song of hope and gratitude and hanging on to the small things and the ones we love.

“Hark! The Herald” gets a very Dylan-esque rearrangement with Kjelland’s harmonica being central. The song is often given a unique rhythmic treatment, stressing unexpected beats.

“You Are My Christmas” gives Kille a chance to get sentimental and this is the most overtly country track. A love song highlighted by Ida Jo and some nice acoustic guitar with the capo high up on the fretboard, this one is very radio-friendly and one could picture it easily as part of a televised Christmas variety show.

“One More Chance This Christmas,” like “Over the Horizon,” has the flavor of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks songs with clever wordplay.

“Winter’s Long Shadow” evokes the melancholy of Wisconsin winter with Simpson’s banjo interplaying nicely with the acoustic guitar. Kjelland’s poetic lyrics are quite effective: “Winter’s long shadow / A shiver down my spine / Dead leaf buried deep beneath the snow / Ghost that hums a song it doesn’t know…”

North Star Sessions concludes on an uplifting note with Kille’s “December 31st,” bookending the tune with quotes from “Auld Lang Syne” first from Ida Jo’s pitch-perfect violin and ending with a rousing vocal reprise. The tune rollicks while the lyrics implore us to break free from the ties that bind. The rhythm section of Ranney and Metz are particularly strong here.

Though this is a seasonal offering it’s likely it will find its way to your playlist throughout the year. 2015 looks to be another very productive year for Kille and Kjelland and the many fans of both of them, and Kjelland’s band the Mascot Theory, will find a lot to like as will the many new devotees who will undoubtedly find them through this release.

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About the author

Rick Tvedt

Rick is publisher of Local Sounds Magazine, formerly Rick's Cafe, Wisconsin's Regional Music Newspaper. He is also the Executive Director for MAMA, Inc., a non-profit organization that produces the Madison Area Music Awards and raises funds to promote youth music programs.

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