For lifelong music fans, the consumption of music is an addiction. Albums from the past and present are devoured ravenously, like a two-pack-a-day smoker, consuming one just to get the next. The addict spends their days chasing memories, the high never quite the same as it once was. Fortunately, for the music fan, this is where the analogy falls short. Every now and then in the endless search for captivating voices, one comes along that is too arresting to immediately move on from. Kath Bloom is that voice. Her frail, quivering, and emotionally charged music is enough to make the listener put all else aside and just sit and listen. Her music begs to be listened with not just the ears, but the heart.
Long Island born and New Haven, Connecticut raised, Bloom switched from cello to guitar at an early age. She would eventually go on to create a dozen or so albums of delicate folk music, usually consisting of just her voice and an acoustic guitar. She’s become known for her elegant love ballads and a voice that can bring a room to the brink of tears. Along the way Bloom’s song “Come Here” was featured in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and a tribute album honouring her career was also released, featuring artists such as Bill Callahan, Josephine Foster, and Mark Kozelek. Throughout the years, Bloom has worked with a number of collaborators, including the avant-garde guitarist and virtuoso musician Loren Connors.
Today, AtS travels back to the early 80s to revisit three long out of print LPs from Bloom and Connors, representing some of the most impassioned work from both artists’ respective careers.
Round His Shoulders Gonna be a Rainbow
(Daggett Records, 1982)
Restless Faithful Desperate
(St. Joan, 1983)
(St. Joan, 1984)
The duo’s albums from the 80s were not widely distributed. In fact, the early LPs had devastatingly small runs, usually under 500 copies with pasted on covers. Though it’s a tragedy that these albums haven’t been central to a proper vinyl reissue campaign (and likely won’t be because of legalities), it’s hard to imagine any music more suited to the limited run treatment. It isn’t hard to imagine Bloom passing these along to friends and family and selling them for a reasonable price at local shows and markets. It goes along with her humble and completely unpretentious image.
Round His Shoulders Gonna be a Rainbow is 14 songs sung and played by Bloom with Connors contributing his signature weeping guitar backing. Half the songs end in audience applause while a few others—unfolding like experiments for album interludes—feature wordless vocals. Sometimes you can even hear people coughing. Normally, this type of carelessness in recording an album takes away from it, but on Round His Shoulders… it just makes the music more intimate and the players more endearing. Bloom was never overly interested in distributing her music, seeming to be perfectly content in playing to friends and family and keeping her life and art simple.
With a catalog as extensive as Blooms and a style that rarely veers off course it can be hard to recognize the standouts. In the Round His Shoulders… lot, “It’s so Hard” is elevated by its immediate feeling of sadness bestowed upon the listener. It’s the perfect example of how Bloom is able to take a song to near insufferable depths without losing sight of the emotion that drives it. “Fall Again” allows the listener in a little more with Bloom pushing the musicality of her voice, singing “my memory / it’s going nuts it’s going wild on me / I try to show you but you never see / that it’s fall again.”
The following year Restless Faithful Desperate was recorded, a collection of folk songs that probe the depths of love, heartache, sex and despair. Bloom pines for a lover on “Look at Me,” declaring that she would do anything in her power to make him happy if she could. There’s a looming cloud of doubt shadowing her sentiment, as if deep down she knows there is nothing she could ever do. The album’s midsection is the closest Bloom and Connors come to channeling the psych-folk blues of Mazzy Star. Overall the production is cleaner and the songs more focused.
In 2009 Chapter Music reissued Restless Faithful Desperate with Moonlight as a 2cd set, the latter containing some of Bloom’s most memorable songs, including the aforementioned “Come Here”.”Puccini” and “End of the Night” reach comparable heights, the former providing a shred of hope in it’s message: “when your dreams come true you’ll fly / if you want to make them real…” but quickly turns existential: “…even if you have to die / at least you’ll know just how you feel.” It’s a realism that Bloom knows all to well, and one that her fans have come to recognize of songs from her career. Bloom’s allure is in her ability to convey the hardest of truths: love, loss, impermanence, and loneliness. Above all, the deepest of hard truths is recognizing that the only thing we can never run from is ourselves. No one knows that better than Kath Bloom.