Kate Jacobs
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Kate Jacobs is an American singer-songwriter, currently resident in Hoboken, New Jersey. Her latest album, "Hydrangea" is a warm and engaging collection of vignettes drawn from some unusual source material. For instance, she can claim inspiration from diaries and journals found in the attic of her parents' two hundred year old farm house, journals that survived the journey from pre-Revolutionary Russia to the Hudson Valley. She's also derived grist for her songwriting mill from her uncle's paintings, as well as reflection on her own life and times. In an era when artists often choose between the restlessly tortured or the breathlessly confessional, Kate takes a much simpler route.

Hydrangea is a family history - colourful, sad, and funny, a wide-screen snow swept epic at some times, an intimate table conversation at others. Kate has an ear for a country-tinged rock song, and aiding and abetting her on the album to this end are the likes of Dave Schramm (he's worked with such outré talents as The Replacements and Yo La Tengo), Vicki Peterson (ex-of The Bangles), and Peter Holsapple (of The db's, REM and Hootie &The Blowfish).

Kate hasn't had to look far for some of the most remarkable tales she has turned into tunes. On the Russian side of her family, which fled the homeland during the revolution, there was a physician great-grandfather who numbered Anton Chekov amongst his friends, Leo Tolstoy amongst his patients, and a dying teenager named Elena as his secret admirer. Moved by the spirit and humour of Elena's diary (found in the attic, translated by Kate's mother), Kate wrote "Good Doctor" The American side of the family had been settled for three centuries in the Hudson Valley of New York. Among them was an uncle who went to Manhattan in the thirties to study painting with Thomas Hart Benson and George Grosz, then travelled to Spain to join the American brigades during the Spanish Civil War and never came home. The paintings and letters he left behind inspired the bittersweet "Eddy Went to Spain". Then there are Kate's own stories, her own inspirations and concerns gardens, birds, Dusty Springfield, love and fear, love and hope, love and ambivalence, and just plain love.

Kate wanted to be a dancer, and studied ballet in England and France, but when she got to Hoboken, with its big city views and small town music scene, she turned to songwriting. As she has said about her first album, "The Calm Comes After", released in 1993: "I decided to learn how to play guitar and see about the songs in my head. Somehow, the hymns and the show tunes and folk songs and operettas and bad country radio and dreamy ballet music have brought me here." Kate has a country charm that masks a more worldly background. She was born and initially raised in Virginia, but her family moved to Europe, and she did most of her growing up there. In 1992, she found herself and her fledgling band on a stage in Piazza San Marco in Venice, representing American Country Music at a two-week long music festival. Although she wasn't exactly the real thing, she was well-travelled enough and sufficiently borderless in her music and life to charm the Venetians with her own very personal brand of Americana.

Kate's second album, "What About Regret", released in 1995, attracted considerable critical acclaim. The album and subsequent tour garnered more than just critical kudos. A children's book editor from Hyperion was so taken with Kate's song "A Sister", which she'd heard on a radio show, that she offered Kate a book deal. Kate transformed the lyrics of "A Sister" into a subtle tale in verse form of a young girl with too many step brothers who longs for a sister. "Hydrangea" was recorded, appropriately enough, in somewhat itinerant fashion, in Hoboken, New York, and New Orleans (where Vicki Peterson and Susan Cowsill contributed vocals and former Hobokenite Peter Holsapple added keyboards). Among the other players are Kate's frequent collaborators Dave Schramm and James MacMillan, whose experience with choral conducting came in handy. Children's choruses from two Hoboken institutions, the Mustard Seed school and the Hudson School, performed two songs inspired by poet Anna Akhmatova - "A very Russian, intensely moral, lonely and passionate poet", says Kate - one of which provides the lovely, bittersweet conclusion to the winding journey that is Hydrangea.

Kate Jacobs - Hydrangea

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