Story & photos by Glenda S. Paradee

Kathy Mattea performed two sold out shows at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona on October 31, 2018 and November 1, 2018.

Mattea gave her heart and soul, mixed in some great humor and wonderful story telling, to create an awesome combination!

Mattea filled our souls singing most of her songs off her new record, Pretty Bird, her first new record in six years.  

Over the past several years her deep, rich singing voice has experienced significant changes that could have put a permanent end to her performing.  Mattea said, "That darn menopause!"  Mattea told me that at an event one time, she was standing next to Tony Bennett. She asked him, "I know how old you are; how do you do it? How do you keep your voice so strong?" "What was his secret."  His advice to her was to find a teacher and re-learn to sing.  So she did. Mattea's coach encouraged her to not think of her voice as diminished, but just different.

For months and months she said she would get together every Thursday, in her living room, with her longtime guitarist, Bill Cooley. They would do songs that she never thought would be on a record. Different songs from what she had done before. After about 6 months, they put together some of the songs they learned, and went out on their Acoustic Living Room Tour.  She then decided to record the new songs for the new record, Pretty Bird, which was produced by Tim O'Brien.

During her concert at the MIM, she sang most of the songs off her Pretty Bird record, including the awesome, Chocolate On My TongueSt.Teresa, which Mattea said was written many years ago but reminds her of the opioid epidemic happening in her home state of West Virginia now, Ode to Billie Joe, the famous Bobbie Gentry tune.  Mercy Now was another crowd pleaser.  A very beautiful song that was written by Mary Gauthier, with these awesome lyrics...

My Father could use a little mercy now...
My brother could use a little mercy now...
My church and my country could use a little mercy now...
Every living thing could use a little mercy now

Only the hand of grace can end the race towards another mushroom cloud

People in power, they'll do anything to keep their crown

​I love life and life itself could use some mercy now

Yea, we all could use a little mercy now...

Every single one of us could use some mercy now.

The song has such a deep meaning to what's going on in this crazy mixed up world we live in now.   

Mattea then said, "Wow, what can I follow that song with?"  She then sang the very beautiful Holy Now. A song written by Peter Mayer, with more amazing lyrics...

This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
It used to be a world half-there
Heaven's second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
Cause everything is holy now...

One of my most favorite songs Mattea performed was, Little Glass Of Wine, written by Jesse Winchester.  It is such a beautiful song. I love these lyrics...

Little glass of wine,
a good thing you are here
You're warm on my lips,
warm as a tear,
a comfort to the fool who's restless in his mind
The lover's trusty potion, little glass of wine...

Mattea performs it so beautifully.  I felt every note!  This song is one of my most favorites!

Mattea also performed October Song, which Jon Vezner wrote.  It is also a lovey song that is one of my very  favorites off Mattea's new record. 

Mattea also performed I Can't Stand Up Alone, written by a country gospel legend, Martha Carson.  It has such a inspirational message in this song.  Mattea gives her heart in this song. 

At end of show, after a standing ovation, Mattea then performed her CD title song Pretty Bird.  She sang it a cappella.  This song was written by Hazel Dickens.  Mattea said that Hazel said the song represents her experience of letting go of the loves in her life, because they would never let her live the life the way she wanted to live.  With lyrics...

I cannot make you no promise
For love is such a daily good thing
Fly away little pretty bird
For he'd only clip your wings
Fly away little pretty bird
And pretty you'd always stay
Fly far beyond the dark mountain
To where you'll be free ever more
Fly away little pretty bird
Where the cold winter winds don't blow

This song has such a message that really hits home to me for sure!

Throughout Kathy's show she threw in some beautiful songs from her career.  Including favorites, Come From The HeartGoin' Gone, 455 Rocket, Where've You Been, which she received a standing ovation on, Time Passes By, Untold Stories, and also, requested songs, Harley, Seeds, and The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore.

 It was so interesting to hear all the stories Mattea told about picking the songs to record for her new record and also, stories about the songwriters.  She really shared alot of her humor too. 
A real highlight of the show is when Kathy said lets make some "Beautiful Noise" together.  She then asked for audience participation in the songs Eighteen Wheels And A Dozen Roses and the beautiful Love at the Five and Dime, which was written by Nanci Griffith.  It felt so great to sing along with Mattea on these two songs.

It is hard for me to put into words how much Kathy Mattea and her music means to me.  Her music really fills my heart and soul.  She makes me feel so many different emotions with her beautiful voice and music.  She brings me so much joy.  I feel she is a gift from God. 
I can't wait to see her again.

Make sure you go see Kathy when she comes to your area.  You will be uplifted by her gift of music, as I always am. 

Kathy Mattea’s new album, Pretty Bird, is available now!

To learn more about Kathy and how to order her new CD, go to www.mattea.com

More on Kathy:

​She was a gifted child who had been skipped a grade, who then dropped out of college and followed her songwriting boyfriend to Nashville. He had given up his dream before a year was through, but Kathy Mattea stuck around, laying the foundations for a career that has already spanned thirty-five years.

Mattea was born in West Virginia, the daughter of a man who was the first in his family to find work outside the coal mines. She started singing in Girl Scout camp, and developed a love for folk music. Only seventeen when she began her studies at West Virginia University , she joined a bluegrass band called Pennsboro. The band leader and principal songwriter wanted to try his luck in Nashville, and Mattea made the bold decision to drop out of college and follow him to Music City.

Only nineteen when she arrived, Tennessee law prohibited her from serving alcohol. This made a waitressing job impossible. She got in touch with the only West Virginia native she knew in town, and he told her that the Country Music Hall of Fame was hiring tour guides. Her outgoing personality landed her the minimum-wage job, and provided her formal introduction to the world of country music.

Mattea became enthralled with the genre’s history. On her lunch break, she would go into the archive room and watch clips of Merle Travis and listen to Jimmie Rodgers. She performed around town at night, and her talents led to gigs as a demo singer and a background vocalist. In 1983, Mercury Records signed Mattea, who was one of the most prominent demo singers in town by that point.

She later described her early work for the label “floundering.” Two albums, Kathy Mattea and From My Heart, were released, and they each produced a handful of top forty singles. She was still struggling to find her voice as an artist, and her future overall looked shaky when she turned in her third album, Walk the Way the Wind Blows. The label surprised her by releasing “Love at the Five and Dime” as the first single. She loved the Nancy Griffith song but didn’t expect it to be a single.

When it was released, it provided the breakthrough Mattea had been waiting for. “Love at the Five and Dime” became her first big hit, earning her a Grammy nomination. The CMA nominated her for the Horizon Award in 1986. Walk the Way the Wind Blows produced three more top ten hits, and the title cut earned a CMA nomination for Single of the Year in 1987.

With new confidence, she recorded her fourth album, Untasted Honey. The label rushed out “Goin’ Gone” as the lead single because they’d heard some other artists were planning on putting it out as well. But even as that song became her first #1, radio DJs were asking when they would release a track from the album called “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses.” When the label acquiesced, Mattea’s career exploded. “Eighteen Wheels” was the first multi-week single by a female artist in nine years, and it won Mattea the Single of the Year awards from both the ACM and CMA. The song even made a pop culture impact, being referenced in the film Rain Man.

Mattea scored another pair of #1 hits from her fifth album Willow in the Wind, “Come From the Heart” and “Burnin’ Old Memories.” In 1989, Mattea was named Female Vocalist by the CMA. Soon after, she released a song that would become her signature hit. Co-written by her future husband Jon Vezner, “Where’ve You Been” was a true story about his grandparents. The stark ballad deeply resonated with listeners, and earned Grammys for both Mattea and its songwriters. Mattea won both the ACM and CMA Female Vocalist awards in 1990, and Wind became her second gold album. She even replaced Reba McEntire as the sole female artist in that year’s CMA Entertainer of the Year race.

The success of “Where’ve You Been” inspired Mattea to become more adventurous with her material, resulting in her first truly cohesive album, Time Passes By. It was released in 1991, and was heavily influenced by a trip she had taken to Scotland. Then, a blood vessel in her throat burst, forcing potentially career-ending surgery. Before having the successful operation, she recorded Lonesome Standard Time, which featured the philosophical “Standing Knee Deep in a River” and “Seeds,” the latter of which was requested by President Bill Clinton when she performed for him years later.

Mattea began to use her celebrity to draw attention to causes dear to her heart. She became the first country artist to visibly promote AIDS awareness. In 1992, she was invited to appear on the CMA awards. Other award shows had taken to wearing red ribbons to draw attention to the illness. The notoriously conservative CMA had the stars where green ribbons instead, for environmental awareness. When Mattea presented that night, she wore three red ribbons along with the green one, and announced the names of her three friends who had died from the disease. The CMA was furious, and excluded her from their anniversary celebration the following year.

Despite the controversy, she continued to have success with her music. She earned a Grammy for her 1993 Christmas album Good News, which focused solely on religious music and contained no secular material. She made a conscious effort to go commercial the following year, with the slick Walking Away a Winner. The title track was her last big hit, peaking at No. 3.

While on tour to support the record, Mattea found herself not wanting to get out of bed, feeling completely uninspired. A friend lent her the book, The Artist’s Way, and she felt a renewed sense of purpose. She took a couple of years preparing her next album, the sonically ambitious Love Travels. It was released to rave reviews in 1997. The Nashville Music Awards deemed it Album of the Year, and she won a CMA for the video of the lead single, “455 Rocket.”

It was another three years before Mattea released what would be her swan song for Mercury, The Innocent Years. When the label released the novelty bonus track “BFD” as a single, ignoring the deeper material on the record she’d decided she’d had enough of the major label scene. From that point on, she decided to fulfill every musical goal she’d ever had. After signing a deal with Narada, she released the Celtic-flavored Roses in 2002, followed by another Christmas album, Joy For Christmas Day. In 2005, she released the acoustic album she’d always dreamed of making, Right Out of Nowhere.

Around this time, Mattea saw Vice President Al Gore’s slide show on global warming. She didn’t sleep for two days after, and she felt a deep urge to get involved. She was deeply worried about the stripping being done to the mountain tops in West Virginia. When Gore began training others to do the presentation, Mattea was in the first group trained. She has since given the slide show many times, all across the country.

Her concerns took on new urgency when twelve miners were killed in the Sago mine disaster. Another one of her dream projects was to collect the coal mining songs that she’d heard throughout the years. She collaborated with Marty Stuart to produce 2008’s Coal, which is equal parts artistic creation and historical document. The album earned universal critical acclaim and was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Traditional Folk Album.

Mattea dug further into her roots for her next release, 2012’s Calling Me Home.  Released on Sugar Hill records, she revisited the coal mining theme while also expanding the scope to include other themes relevant to her West Virginian ancestry.  The bluegrass flavored set was followed by a hiatus during which Mattea began working with a new vocal teacher to help her voice adjust to its changes with time.  She is currently readying the release of her seventeenth album, Pretty Bird, which was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Essential Singles

Love at the Five & Dime, 1986
Goin’ Gone, 1987
Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses, 1988
Come From the Heart, 1989
Where’ve You Been, 1989
The Battle Hymn of Love (with Tim O’Brien), 1990
Time Passes By, 1991
Lonesome Standard Time, 1992
Walking Away a Winner, 1994
455 Rocket, 1997

Essential Albums

Willow in the Wind, 1989
Time Passes By, 1991
Good News, 1993
Love Travels, 1997
Right Out of Nowhere, 2005
Coal, 2008
Calling Me Home, 2012

Industry Awards

Academy of Country Music Awards

Top Female Vocalist, 1990
Single of the Year

Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses, 1989

Song of the Year

Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses, 1989
Where’ve You Been, 1990

Country Music Association Awards

Female Vocalist of the Year, 1989, 1990
Music Video of the Year

455 Rocket, 1997

Single of the Year

Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses, 1988

Grammy Awards

Best Female Country Vocal Performance

Where’ve You Been, 1991

Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album​

For more on Kathy and upcoming concert dates, go to www.mattea.com



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