Songs from the edge

August 26, 1994|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

The time for Kathy Mattea's concert at Pier Six Concert Pavilion was incorrectly listed in yesterday's Maryland Live section. The concert begins at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow.

The Sun regrets the errors.

After three days at home, Kathy Mattea is in heaven.

"I've been gone for the better part of a month, and was only supposed to be home for about 24 hours this week, but some stuff got rescheduled," she says, over the phone from Nashville. "It's like every day, my brain will decompress a little more. I mean, I was excited about doing laundry. That's pretty scary."

Don't get her wrong -- it isn't that Mattea feels stressed out by the workload she's shouldered since releasing her 10th album, "Walk Away a Winner," earlier this year. If anything, the opposite is true. "There's a lot of stuff on my plate, but I seem to be handling it," she says. "I'm cranking out more work with less stress than I ever have."


What made the difference, she says, was the time she spent recovering from vocal surgery in 1992. "When I was at the height of everything, I was having a hard time," she says. "I felt like I was on this snowball that kept rolling downhill. It kept getting bigger and bigger and faster and faster, and didn't know how to slow it down. I was afraid that if I tried to slow it down at all, it would stop.

"Then my voice sort of gave out, and at that point everything ground to a screeching halt."

Instead of being devastated by the experience, however, Mattea learned something about herself. "I found that during that time, I wasn't unhappy. I mean, I had a mission -- to get through this vocal surgery -- and I had a lot of time to think about priorities. I came away from that knowing that not all of my emotional happiness is tied up in whether or not this works. I can be valuable and productive and happy whether it's going great guns or not.

"Once you really realize that," she adds, "it takes a lot of the pressure off. I don't know -- I think, deep down, part of me is relaxed about it, and has been trying to enjoy it instead of worrying."

Maybe that's why Mattea's most recent work -- particularly "Good News," the Christmas album she released last year, and "Walking Away a Winner" -- seems so heartfelt. Unlike so many other country artists these days, it seems as if Mattea cares less about pleasing the marketplace than about making music she'd like to hear.

"Obviously, I try to do things I like that I think other people will like," she says. "But I approach it more as my life's work than as 'Hey, what's hot right now?' That gives you a certain peace that you don't get otherwise."

With "Walking Away a Winner," Mattea took that process a step further, pushing herself to do things she previously might have found too risky or out-on-the-edge. "Rather than just going in and doing the regular again, I wanted love to go into it with a completely fresh vision," she says.

"Not worrying about, 'Oh, god, are people going to get it?' Just let it be what it is. And we were able to do that together, and it was a great experience. Really emotional and passionate, but really fun, too. It was free and loose, and I learned so much."

In a sense, what she does on the album is a lot like what she sings about in "The Cape." A charming Guy Clark song about a kid who gets to the heart of what playing Superman is all about, its chorus advises that life "Is just a leap of faith/Spread your arms and hold your breath/And always trust your cape."

"I felt like we took that one and made it our own," she says. "We just got out the guitars one day and started fooling around with it, and decided to make it Pure Prairie League meets 'Rocky Raccoon.'

"It's not without mistakes," she adds "That's a live track, vocal and everything. It's not a perfect track, but I didn't want to change anything or cut it again, because the energy of it is so much the energy of that song. In fact, when I go to do it onstage, I have to tell people that for me to try to do this guitar lick means that I have to be like this guy. Because sometimes I hit it right on the mark, and sometimes my fingers just don't want to do it."

But her fans understand. Truth be told, the honesty and daring of moments like that is what has earned Mattea her audience. "I have done some very different stuff -- stuff that people have thought I was nuts for doing," she admits. "But that has earned me a following that is loyal, that goes and buys my records whether they hear them all over the radio or not.

"It's difficult when you're in an atmosphere of conformity, it's really hard to figure out how to fit in, and how to not strip yourself of what makes you unique. And when you go for something that's new, that you haven't been able to do before, and other people do get it, it's an incredible feeling. It's the best."

Listening to Mattea

To hear excerpts from Kathy Mattea's album "Walking Away a Winner," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6149 after you hear the greeting.

Mattea in concert

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Pier Six Concert Pavilion

Tickets: $25 reserved, $13 lawn

Call: (410) 625-1400 or (800) 638-2444

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