MUSIC CITY ROOTS/NASHVILLE
From extravagance to simple elegance we went, as Kerri Powers took the stage with nothing but a chair, an acoustic guitar and a tapping tambourine strapped to the toe of her boot. Reading about her I assumed she’d be a folk strummer, but she began to lay down some of the finest country blues fingerstyle guitar we’ve had on our stage. It was shades of Rory Block, Chris Smither and, all the way back, Blind Blake and Gary Davis. She’s got the dance and snap and melodic intent that makes the Piedmont style one of my lifetime favorite styles, and we too rarely see women focused on these skills. On top was a fascinating, strong voice rich with barbs and prickles. She was super bluesy on opener “Tallulah Send A Car For Me.” But she also slowed things down with tenderness on “Train In The Night.” And she was cheeky in “Peepin’ Tom.” This was laid back, well written and beautifully sung stuff.
Kerri Powers has been a staple of the New England music scene for the last decade or so, and yet it’s been something of a struggle to attain the wider acceptance that’s so clearly her due. Powers’ supple vocals give these songs a cool caress, creating a quiet aura of authority and conviction only the most accomplished artists have the ability to attain. Powers’ own compositions are excellent as always, but the gentle touch she instills in such songs such as Janis Ian’s “Jesse” and the oft-covered “To Love Somebody” by the Bee Gees finds these songs sounding like they’re being heard for the very first time. Powers is a soulful singer, an extraordinary interpreter and an artist with a decided folk finesse that can make even original songs --- the Dylanesque duo “Old Shirt” and “Train in the Night” being prime examples -- sound both timeless and telling. At this point in her career, Powers is due for a big breakout, and if justice prevails, this is the album that will provide it. (kerripowers.com)
AFTER A FEW LOWS, BLUES SINGER KERRI POWERS RELAUNCHES HER CAREER
drenched in the emotions of the blues, folk and country, the extraordinary roots singer/songwriter Kerri Powers uses her dramatically dark and beautiful, soul-shattering voice to mine the melancholy depths of romantic heartbreak and broken dreams in the edgy narratives of her songs.
A native of rural Massachusetts, Powers sings the blues with such authentic, downhome heat and grit that you might well think she's from Mississippi. Besides being a consummate chronicler of disappointment and despair, she can also morph into an impishly naughty rebel with a cause, a Mark Twain-like trickster whose wry words, dramatic sense of dynamics and supple phrasing can also celebrate joy and hope.
As part of her high-flying campaign to re-launch her career, Powers, who is also a fluent, natural-sounding guitarist inspired by classic blues pickers, presents her warm, intimate, unaffected style in a solo performance at 8 p.m. Friday, May 1, at Middletown's Buttonwood Tree Performing Arts and Cultural Center.
"I don't think there is anyone out there who could say they never experienced melancholy, or down time," she says of her desire to connect with her audience through universal themes.
"I write about what I know, what I've experienced. I just think there is so much healing in that approach. It's very therapeutic, both for the songwriter as well as the listener. I'm also a big believer in hope and being a rascal, growing old while retaining a devilish spirit. And I've always been that way ever since I was a little girl," she says by phone from her home in central Connecticut.
Right from the time she was a little girl growing up in East Taunton, not far from Plymouth, Mass., she was immersed in music, visual arts and literature, most deeply in her mother's rich record collection. For enchanted hours on end in her childhood, she'd sit in a rocking chair listening to and singing along with her mom's vinyl albums, from Joan Baez to John Prine.
Artistic expression, whether through singing, writing or painting, has always been at the core of her life.
Because her mother is a visual artist, painting was an early expressive outlet for Powers, who has exhibited her abstract works throughout New England. Most recently, she has shown at The Buttonwood Tree and at the Newington Library.
Powers' father, a country music-loving lineman for a local power company, also had a large record collection that she absorbed, mesmerized by titans ranging from Hank Williams to Patsy Cline.
As a blues-struck, free-spirited but shy kid, she began taking guitar lessons from a fiddle-playing friend's father. Guitar in hand, young Kerri walked the railroad tracks from her home to her teacher's house where he unraveled the magical mysteries of slide guitar and the roots playing tradition.
Genetically, Powers' family's DNA pool includes ancestral talents in music and writing. It claims links to Bing Crosby, a distant cousin of her father, and, on the maternal side, the great American novelist Herman Melville. Her paternal grandmother, whom she describes as "a hoot," played accompaniment for silent films back in the day.
Verbally gifted and a voracious reader, young Powers was writing songs by age 9. Reading, writing and reflection are lifetime habits that seem to have sharpened her gift for writing spare, imagistic lyrics and concise narratives with a natural flow.
Early on, she honed her performance skills with gigs at coffee houses locally and throughout New England, making an impression with her searingly soulful sound. As her career was getting underway, she set it aside to get married and have a family.
When the marriage failed, she was deeply hurt, but managed to work her way back into the music scene. As her career was ascending, yet another setback occurred in 2010 when she was scheduled to appear with Lyle Lovett and other big names at the prestigious Strawberry Music Festival. Instead of enjoying a breakthrough, she experienced heart arrhythmia the night before she was to fly to the festival in California. The arrhythmia was corrected medically, and she has enjoyed a full recovery.
Her career, however, was once again sidetracked.
As part of her personal and artistic road to fulfillment after the trauma of divorce and her bout with arrhythmia, Powers moved to Coventry. There she sought peace and quiet in an 18th-century farmhouse, a woodsy retreat where she could write, paint, reflect and regroup.
"I just felt that all that solace would be good for me, and it was the first time I was completely on my own in years," she says. "Coventry was one of the most beautiful places. I loved the woods, and it was peaceful at a time when I really needed that."
"I learned so much about my environment and surroundings," she adds, "as well as a lot of internal, soulful kinds of things. It was an incredible lesson, and that's when I started writing again."
That resurgence of creativity led to her powerful comeback release in 2014, a self-titled, memoir-like CD recorded at Eric Lichter's noted Dirt Floor Recording Studio in Chester. An elegantly spare, well-crafted gem, the 2014 album, her first release in five years, is graced with eight bright originals and two impassioned, imaginative covers--Janis Ian's "Jesse" and the Bee Gees "To Love Somebody."
Besides the triumphant CD, the rebooting of Powers' career includes ambitious touring, plus plans for an encore recording. At the top of her game, she's going full speed ahead, confident, happy and hoping for the best.
The Boston Phoenix
"...Her neo-trad country rock had vision and bite. The original song ''Tallulah Send a Car for Me'' had a Lucinda Williams brilliance, while a cover of Ivory Joe Hunter's ''Since I Met You Baby'' was stunning. Powers has a skilled acoustic-guitar touch...don't miss her next time."
The Boston Globe
"There's an authenticity at work here, a heart-tugging gravity and a lively intelligence to go along with the sass."
"... Her song's landscapes evoke the similar worlds of artists like Bruce Springsteen or Gillian Welch. And like them, her language alternates between the poetic and blue collar."
"...if you have an opportunity to see Kerri Powers live, take advantage of it while she's still playing small venues. I finally had a chance to see her perform earlier this year and was completely blown away."
Country Standard Time
"a collection of songs that owe as much to Raymond Carver and Flannery O'Connor as they do any songwriting muse...presented in a voice part Lucinda Williams and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, that haunts and penetrates."
Ctrl Alt Country
"...extraordinarily sensual and compelling at the same time...a truly great artist."
Rein Van De Berg
"Holy smokes - this is damn good Americana....a standout."
Gilded Palace of Sin, UK
"...Kerri Powers, who’s just released Faith In The Shadows, puts me in mind of nothing less than Jesse Sykes breaking into Lucinda Williams'studio and stealing away with her band. Smokey vocals, big tremulous guitar sweeps: very good indeed."
Country Standard Time
"... What emerged from the music of this obviously intelligent and talented singer/songwriter was that this must have been exactly what was planned when the Americana genre was born."
"Comparisons to Lucinda Williams are easy to make, but Powers’ work also contains broad hints of Patsy Cline, Judy Collins, John Prine, and even Tom Waits. In short, it is thoughtful music, yet possesses its own special musical kick."
One of the most genuine ways to discover a new artist is by having another artist you admire turn you on to their work. It’s a beautiful thing to watch and listen to someone who crafts their art with such precision talk about another artist who they share some common, spiritual bond with. 2013 was a banner year for Connecticut’s Dirt Floor Studios and if the new, self-titled album from CT’s own, Kerri Powers, is a harbinger at all then 2014 could be even better.
Powers is the exact definition of Americana. Her music spans the wide pantheon of almost every style of music that is distinctly American. Country, blues, roots rock, it’s all there for the giving and the taking. The album opens with the track “Old Shirt” which has a distinctive Wilco/Son Volt vibe when both bands are doing their best to channel Neil Young. It’s immediately followed by the slide-guitar wielding excellence of “Buttercup” where Powers is suddenly transformed into the bastard child of Lightnin’ Hopkins. This track is immediately followed by “Train In The Night”, which is a heart-string-tugging acoustic ballad. And so it goes for Powers as she deftly dances back and forth through a truly dizzying array styles. Never once does she sound out of place though, and never once do you question her song choices. She’s got a lot to say and a dozen ways to say them. Whether she’s feeling soft and quiet or rambunctious and gritty, Kerri Powers speaks with a voice that simply must be heard.
Powers is something of an anomaly. She’s like the CT music scene’s version of the protagonist in the film, The Natural, having spent the “prime of her career” out of the spotlight (in her case, tending to her family) only to return from absolutely nowhere to wow and amaze. Where Robert Redford made all the fans sit up and cheer with mammoth home runs, Kerri Powers is going to make people listening to this album do the exact same thing with exceptional songwriting and equally exceptional delivery. Some artists write great songs but don’t know what to do with them. Other artists make up fora lack in songwriting ability with great showmanship. Powers is the total package. Whether it’s a blues-soaked number like “Tallulah Send a Car for Me” or a straight country ballad like, “Come Around”, Powers nails every one of these songs. Her voice is a haunting, yet sweet vessel where words drip with pain and honey-soaked experiences and her backing band on this record play it sparse yet potent. Not to mention that her cover of Janis Ian’s “Jesse” gives the original more than a fair run for its money.
This is the first Kerri Powers album in five years. Let’s hope beyond hope we don’t have to wait another five for the next one. Kerri Powers’ self-titled album is available now for purchase through CDBaby.com. You can preview the entire album as it streams over atAirPlay Direct.com.
The tone is set on the intoxicating blues refrain “Tallulah Send a Car for Me.” Ms. Powers has a powerful country-blues voice with an inimitable timbre, and her compositions display both a groundedness and a refreshing lack of pretension. The brilliant “Old Shirt” is a pedal-steel augmented ballad of remembrance and regret, which is lovely and evocative. The excellent “Train in the Night” is an ineffably sad lament featuring a lilting vocal catch by Ms. Powers that will break your heart. “Buttercup” varies the sound—it is a mean old hoodoo blues; “Ghost” has a similar mysterious hoodoo ambiance, and Ms. Powers does remarkably expressive things with her voice. The halting, ominous “A Little Light” varies the pace with a tolling guitar sound and dreamy pedal steel accompaniment. Judging on the basis of the best of these songs, Ms. Powers is a major talent. This debut is a keeper. (Francis DiMenno)