Candye Kane has one of those biographies that makes for good copy. She’s been a punk/Goth chick, a stripper, a teen-age mother, a pin-up girl, a darling of the swing revival, a survivor of pancreatic cancer, and, oh yeah, one heck of a vocalist. Sister Vagabond is the tenth album she’s released since 1994, and it’s further proof that all the rest of that very interesting life she’s led is only background to the skills she displays with music.
Candye Kane's Sister Vagabond
Starting with last year’s Superhero, Kane’s music has been given a vigorous shot in the arm by the guitar abilities of Laura Chavez. Kane and Chavez instantly bonded musically, and have become a tight-knit team, writing songs together, and becoming perfect foils to each other’s talents. Chavez can play virtually any blues or R&B guitar style, and Kane brings her hook-filled positive energy to the table.
Sister Vagabond kicks off in fine fashion with a song they didn’t write, an old Johnny "Guitar" Watson gem called “I Love To Love You.” Chavez captures the snap and snarl of Watson’s guitar style, and Kane embodies his sexual swagger and confidence. It’s easy to see why they chose to open the album with this cut; it’s inviting, insinuating, and intense. Two songs later, they turn Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothin’s” into a pseudo-Creedence Clearwater Revival swamp-rock number. Kane, whose vocals adapt to many different styles, sounds remarkably like the young Lee did on the original, but the backing of the band is nothing like that.
Kane and Chavez wrote all the other songs save two, neither of which has been recorded by anybody else. Jack Tempchin and Glenn Frey (of all people) co-wrote “Everybody’s Gonna Love Somebody Tonight,” a song that almost certainly has to open her club sets now. It describes that mood of hope and desire which so often accompanies the decision to go out and hear a band. “You might start something that’ll end in tears/You might start something that’ll last a million years.” The party is ready to begin. The song also benefits from a guest appearance by the talented harmonica player James Harman. “Down With the Blues” is a beautiful acoustic song written by Steve White, a friend of Kane’s who passed away shortly before they recorded the song. Kane sings this one with a palpable feeling of her love for her friend.
The Kane/Chavez originals are all over the map stylistically, but are almost all enjoyable. “Love Insurance” is a clever and tuneful number in which Kane is told she’s a high risk client because of her many broken hearts. Kane sings this soul song with a perfect mixture of humor and awareness of the risks inherent in love. “Walkin', Talkin’ Haunted House” is a highlight of the record. Again remembering her past loves, Kane re-imagines them as ghosts still looking to bother her, set to a minor key R&B feel chock full of pointed jabs from Chavez on guitar. Kane gets the chance here to showcase her big, brassy vocal chops, building up to a high point on the bridge that can induce chills. Chavez then steals the spotlight with some chilly, atmospheric soloing.
You Can't Take It Back From Here
“Side Dish” and “Have A Nice Day” are both nifty knock-offs, taking a simple idea and milking it for catchy results. The former swings and cooks in the manner of Ruth Brown’s Atlantic sides, with a delightful basso profundo guest appearance by one David Mosby. The latter is a pointed take-down of an ex, who spoke to her in a series of clichés far removed from their one-time intimacy. Kane sings this one with a perfect mixture of spite and disbelief, but the band doesn’t quite sell the zydeco groove they give it.
Sometimes, Kane can be too earnest for her own good. There’s nothing wrong with the sentiment in “You Can’t Take It Back From Here,” a song written to help benefit the Gulf restoration project. She sings of the problems facing the planet, and mixes in some images from Louisiana’s history, but it never quite gels into a whole song. Perhaps the fact that she re-wrote an earlier angry song to her father is what makes this one seems jumbled. That said, she sings it mighty sweet, and Chavez plays some stinging guitar on it. “I Deserve Love” ends the record on another problematic note. The hook is infectious, and will pop in and out of your head for days, but the song sounds like an outtake from a 1950s off-Broadway musical. We do all deserve love, of course, but we also deserve a song that does more than just state that for the record. When Kane uses her imagination and shows us what happens with love, as on most of the other songs here, we understand this theme better than when she just tells us it’s a good thing.
Steve's Bottom Line
When it comes down to it, Kane’s biggest flaws tend to come out when she wants to empower people to make a difference in their lives. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, and if some might prefer the empowerment to come implicitly instead of explicitly, she brings it both ways on this record, so everybody can be happy. Candye Kane has plenty of talent, and Sister Vagabond is an album with many delights. (Delta Groove Records, released August 16, 2011)
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