Barbara Jo Kammer – One Song at a Time
Despite the fact that nine out of the ten songs on this album come from outside writers, you’ll hear few musical releases more personal than Barbara Jo Kammer’s One Song at a Time. A music therapist by profession, Kammer uses this collection as emotional purging of sorts celebrating and putting down in a musical story the experiences and changes she’s endured during the last ten years. It’s an entertaining musical release, without question, but it has genuine compositional substance, first class vocals, and a sense of message and willingness to grapple with life’s difficulties quite unlike many artists working today. There’s a thread of melancholy running through some of the tracks, but One Song at a Time is ultimately guided by a hopeful spirit that aims to continually deal with life on life’s terms and find release through self-expression.
She hits us with a dose of the familiar starting the album off with “I Can See Clearly”. It’s a powerful re-imagining of this pop standard into a bluegrass jaunt and she fills the vocal with every ounce of charisma and character she can muster. It pairs up nicely, if a bit incongruously, with “Choices”, a stark and profoundly insightful look at substance abuse she embraces with all the fervor one might expect from someone who has lived the lyric. There’s no wallowing in despair – this, instead, is a performance of immense bravery. Peter Rowan’s “So Good” is another upbeat bluegrass influence jaunt with a loose feel and confidence seeping out from every second of the performance. Her band mates know how to navigate the deceptively simple turns of this music and never make a misstep, but they have the good fortune to be playing off of a singer who leads the way with smiling, relaxed authority. “In a Cabin on the Mountain by the Pine” is definitely a throwback number that wholeheartedly embraces retro, rural imagery in order to tell its story, but it doesn’t feel so remote from our emotional experience thanks to the excellent job Kammer does bringing it to life with her voice.
Her original “The Winning Side” paints, in no uncertain terms, the gratitude for finding her way to recovery from the old life she pursued. It does so with plain-spoken poetry that never tries biting off anymore than it can chew and is coupled with a musical arrangement operating under the same aesthetic. The music is artfully assembled and there’s not a single extraneous note to be heard during the entire performance. “Bluegrass Melodies” is another cover from a famous pen, this time one of the Statler Brothers, but Kammer does her customary top notch job of owning the song in her own way and spinning it in such a way that you’d mistake it for no one else. Much of this album is like that. It’s clear that Barbara Jo Kammer brings something of herself to each one of these tracks and it results in a first class effort all around. One Song at a Time is can’t miss.