Barbara Jo Kammer – One Song at a Time
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Barbara Jo Kammer’s sixty two years of life have taken her on a ride that has cost her much but brought her all that much more. One Song at a Time is her first solo effort and a musical narrative of that period in her life and the ten years since its conclusion – a decade that has seen her consolidate her life, begin realizing her potential as a human being, and give something back to those in need through her role as a music therapist. There’s more than a hint of publically “working things out” on One Song at a Time, but it’s never uncomfortable. Listeners, instead, will find themselves basking in the warm and steady glow of songwriting that takes a well rounded view of life, is informed with regret and introspection, but nonetheless remains fiercely engaged with life. The rich musical backing she receives makes their performances even more formidable.
“I Can See Clearly Now” is a defining pop standard, a song that’s lived on in commercials and cover versions since its initial release, and Kammer’s version is a cut above the rest. She brings this completely into her wheelhouse by transforming it into a rambunctious bluegrass boogie, but the optimistic sentiments come through with every bit as much of the same energy we hear in the original. “Choices” certainly settles things down with its embrace of a slowly developing classic country arrangement complete with weeping fiddle courtesy of Jake Simpson, one of the album’s musical mainstays. The difficult lyric, chronicling a lifetime’s worth of dissipation at the hands of alcoholism, is handled beautifully and sensitively by Kammer. “Hard Promises to Keep” is another nod to the classic country sound, this time a male/female duet, and Kammer’s singing partner Greg Blake does a superb job of wrapping his voice around Kammer for maximum dramatic effect. Kammer does these sorts of songs particularly well – in her hands, the music takes on an added gravity thanks to the evocative phrasing she surrounds the lyrics with.
“Medicine Wheel” has some country music elements wafting through its arrangement, but it is much more of a straight forward folk song and free from any heavy handed tropes associated with genre. “The Winning Side” is Kammer’s sole songwriting contribution to One Song at a Time, but it’s a doozy. It’s apparent that the pent-up talents she’s harbored all these years are bursting to find release and this is one of the most supreme moments of that on the album. She embodies the hopeful lyric with an edge that few vocalists can. There’s an anagram of country and blues influences informing “New Shoes” with a little of the sprightliness we associate with New Orleans jazz adding a little extra spice. The fiddle playing is particularly effective here. She ends the album with a final nod to traditional country by taking on a classic track from the Blue Yodeler himself, Jimmie Rodgers. Her version of “Mule Skinner Blues” is stamped with her own personality, however, and ends the album with an appropriate balance of the personal and traditional. One Song at a Time is an affecting musical voyage that hits all its marks and more.