The cream always rises to the top, even if it takes 30 years. Since the late '70s, Kath Bloom has been releasing lo-fi folk with painfully honest lyrics and equally contemplative, sparse melodies. The classically trained Connecticut singer-songwriter wrote six records with avant-garde guitarist Loren Mazzacane Connors before 1984. All six were pressed in numbers between 50 and 300; all fetch a principal's ransom on the black market.
Then Kath, daughter of renowned oboist Robert Bloom, took the last half of the '80s off on account of maternity leave, family issues, and financial instability. Eventually, cult classic director Richard Linklater caught wind of her and licensed "Come Here" for 1995's Before Sunrise, which rekindled commercial interest in her back catalog as well as her passion for writing songs. By Y2K, she was back releasing albums left and right.
To give her entire career due, Chapter Music commissioned a two-disc tribute album, Loving Takes This Course, which collects a selection of her greatest hits on one disc, and features a range of notable indie artists covering the same songs on another. Naturally, some covers don't quite "get" it, stretching out elegant vocals and smooth production that belies the original songs charm and gritty, off key quirkiness. However, inspired interpretations from Devendra Banhart, Scout Niblett, Amy Rude, and the gorgeous Mia Doi Todd ultimately save the disc.
Of course, the originals are the best reason to invest in this compilation; we get an even mix of Bloom's post-millennium projects and selections from her rare early work. "The Breeze/My Baby Cries" is heartwarming, with Kath's better-than-Joan Baez warble hitting the right kind of mournful over off-key guitar and subtly malfunctioning studio effects. The more lo-fi her surroundings, the more impact her vocals have. "I Wanna Love" has a sweet country-folk vibe going for it, bound to make first time listeners swoon. Every track is moving in its own way.
Considering how half-assed most tribute albums end up being -- bloated with phoned-in covers from the big name slackers -- Loving Takes This Course is a beacon of quality. From the names involved (lest we forget Mark Kozalek and The Dodos) to the choice greatest hits disc, it's the kind of once-in-a-career retrospective that makes an obscurity into a legend. San Francisco filmmaker Caveh Zahedi spent two years putting it together, and the effort shows. Expect to see the name Kath Bloom in the same circles as Vashti Bunyan, Gillian Welch, and Lucinda Williams a lot from now on.
Disc One: The Covers
1. Come Here (Marble Sounds)
2. The Breeze/My Baby Cries (Bill Callahan)
3. When I See You (Laura Jean)
4. Finally (Mark Kozelek)
5. Window (Mick Turner & Peggy Frew)
6. Forget About Him (Devendra Banhart)
7. I Wanna Love (Scout Niblett)
8. Biggest Light Of All (The Dodos)
9. Look At Me (Josephine Foster)
10. Ready Or Not (Mia Doi Todd)
11. Fall Again (Corrina Repp)
12. It's So Hard To Come Home (Marianne Dissard & Joey Burns)
13. In Your School (Amy Rude)
14. If This Journey (Tom Hanford)
15. There Was A Boy (Meg Baird)
16. Come Here (The Concretes)
Disc Two: The Kath Bloom Originals
1. Come Here
2. The Breeze/My Baby Cries
3. When I See You
6. Forget About Him
7. I Wanna Love
8. Biggest Light Of All
9. Look At Me
10. Ready Or Not
11. Fall Again
12. It's So Hard To Come Home
13. In Your School
14. If This Journey
15. There Was A Boy
16. Come Here