Kate Gaffney: The Coachman

By: Dennis Cook

The stripped back, exposed opening minute of The Coachman (TiredWired Productions) rapidly crawls under your skin with a sharply drawn emotional tenor and singer with the sort of voice that reminds one why Auto-Tune will never replace a skipping, beautiful, inviting set of pipes like Kate Gaffney possesses and puts to work on one of the most readily winning, easy to enjoy singer-songwriter slanted albums in a blue moon.

Part of what makes The Coachman work so well is the way Gaffney taps into the same reservoirs as the best Bonnie Raitt, Aimee Mann and other touchstones but never sounds precisely like anyone else. She's got the timbre down to resonate on their frequency but she's gifted enough to skirt emulation. And she's a got a soulful lilt that gives her music lovely hips, which she sways compellingly with primo collaborators like Jackie Greene, Greg Leisz, Andrew Lipke and Steve Kimock. There's the touch of pros here and a sound that recalls the heyday of '70s FM radio with a thoughtful assembly of ingredients and fine instinct for catchy turns of phrase and melodies, including a subtle one-drop, reggae vibe burbling under the surface of tunes like "Fallen For The Road." Toss in choice covers of Greene's "The Ballad of Sleepy John" and Woody Guthrie's "Philadelphia Lawyer" and you can add good taste to Gaffney's virtues.

Gaffney has been making waves in the San Francisco live scene, befriending some of the best players around, and it's not hard to understand why they want to dig their fingers into this material. The 18-minutes-but-you'd-never- know-it flow of the title cut alone suggests there's cool places for these songs to wander on stages. There's a lot to work with here and a terrifically talented musician steering things. Maybe it's high time we all got out to one of Gaffney's "Kitchen Sink Sessions" at the Connecticut Yankee in SF. In the meantime, The Coachman will satisfy the urge for good music, pure and simple.

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[Published on: 12/31/09]

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