Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reading Kimberly Summer's blue skies

[First published in The Indie, 2005, Asheville NC]

KIMBERLY SUMMER’s (Kimberly Summer Pollock) blue sky reveals warm vulnerability and quiet defiance that could be both disturbing and contradictory yet admittedly, mystifying. Her exquisitely hushed ache cuts across like a sweet, soft serenade of wounded sincerity-tenderly delivered by a kneading, voluptuous moan, “Read these lips and open your eyes to me.” With that, I found it hard to simply pre-judge her straight-ahead, seductive melancholia as another wry example of sweet-and-sour singer-songwriter atmospherics.

This is not all about PJ Harvey rereading Sylvia Plath via spunky bleeding-heart histrionics, or Liz Phair approximating Marianne Faithfull’s blasé seethe - this is Kimberly Summer evoking the sandpaper-raw, bleedingly honest journal entries of Kimberly Summer. That’s it.
So as Ms Summer proceeds with, “Close your mouth, open your ears, get off the ground and look at me” or a more demanding, more insistent, “You nod your head but do you hear me?” you know from that point on, that you just have to listen more… That is why, when she sings, “Sarah yelled out, do you hear me, I need your help / When no one answered she fell to the ground,” in “Sweet Sarah,” we know fully well that Kimberly Summer’s debut CD, “Listen,” a collection of thirteen of her unaffectedly transparent and nakedly tender songs wants us to exactly do that, LISTEN.

Excellent backup musicians
BUT WHAT sets this meticulously-packaged album apart from most local (read, Asheville-based) solo female acoustic efforts-is the excellent technical boardwork that producer Chris Rosser and the masterful accompanying musicianship of percussionist River Guerguerian, violinist Joe Ebel, bassist Tim Pollock, and Rosser rendered to the entire project. Rosser and Guerguerian could easily be considered two of the ten best, most respected musicians in Western North Carolina.
Their inclusion in “Listen”-not to mention Sherri Ebert’s design and photography that fittingly dabbed dramatic sensitivity to Ms Summer’s lovely albeit dark musings-makes this CD such a tempting proposition. (Side comment from a friend: “Kimberly Summer’s stunning photos, alone, makes the CD worth keeping… and it’s not even Shakira’s or Gretchen Wilson’s”).
Almost a month before I actually listened to “Listen” in full, uninterrupted moments, I had an almost two-hour conversation with Kimberly Summer at Bearly Edible Café in downtown Asheville. But for some reason, I don’t really usually use even fifty or thirty-percent of my interview material as background to an article, profile, or review. Yet I find it very important that I listen or observe or talk with my subject, live in person, right in front of me-the very bare humanity of the unguarded persona fronting me. In that way, I find the personality less distant, more accessible.
I however reviewed my interview notes a week after my mid-afternoon chat with Kimberly. But like an empty canvas that enticingly sits there, with a thousand possibilities of multi-hued exploration a-waiting, I had no story that’s worth a brushstroke. I got the obligatory info-Kim was from West Lafayette, Indiana… moved to St Augustine, Florida… she now lives in Arden with her schoolteacher hubby, Tim, who also occasionally plays bass on her gigs. That’s all about it.

Wounded moonshadows
THEN, ONE rain-drenched afternoon, early last month, by a waterfront bench in Fells Point, Maryland, I nonchalantly put “Listen” on my Walkman… and so, slowly but surely, the story of wounded moonshadows, crying angels, and rain-drenched sonatas came to life. Then, one early evening at Herald Square on a very crowded 36th Avenue and 7th Street in Manhattan, Kim’s pleadingly sighing voice kept me company. As I traveled back to Asheville from Alexandria VA-two weeks before deadline-I again drowned my Greyhound nights with, “Show me my purpose, give me peace / Use me, make me, what you want, what you want me to be / I come to you, I fall at your feet.” Like exploding chakra, “Listen’s” emotional/spiritual kick had me hooked. Lean, sparse, uncomplicated singing--and just about enough minimalist instrumentation to get the piercing melodic honesty down deep.

Cuts like a razor blade
SUCH IS MY reading of Kimberly Summer’s “blue sky.” Like a mournful, drunkenly dazed Lucinda Williams wailing “World Without Tears” under a weeping full moon, or Sheryl Crow admonishing her lover, “Lie to me, I promise, I’ll believe,” as she entices him to fall down on his knees-Ms Summer’s knife-edge honesty cuts like a razor blade but it doesn’t actually hurt, the words and melody simply cut you, it’s just that. So that the sweetly, achingly mesmerizing experience of listening to “Listen” is like watching a wafting thunderstorm break through the glade while the rain belts Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine.”
Listen as Ms Summer revisits her wounds with, “The nights are so long, and it’s hard to be alone,” in “What About Us” (my personal favorite), while Joe Ebel’s haunting and bewitching violin pours more bourbon to an already-smashed aftermidnight… you will know what I am rambling about here. The young lady hurts so good.

Blue sky blessing
THE LAST time I saw Kimberly Summer, it was… well, the blue sky was about to bless us with rain. Before an intimate but attentive crowd at Bearly Edible, she opened her set with “Me and Bobby McGee.” Midway through that early Saturday evening, and two PBRs hence-her firm, butterfly fingers started to strum the opening bars to the next heartache sonata, “Push Me Away,” and then she went, “How can I talk to you when you don’t want to be heard / You keep quiet and undisturbed and you don’t want to say a word.” Ah, I need another drink, I thought. But then she followed that sorrowful serenade with Sarah MacLachlan’s “Ice Cream” … so, I guess, I was allright. One thing is sure, once again, Kim’s deeply-personal, gorgeously-sad songs make the rain such wonderful blessings.
"Listen,” like the almost-innocent, immaculate way by which Kimberly Summer treats her “Blue Skies,” isn’t the sort of heavy-coated women-in-rock confectionary that permeates the candy store these days. Ms Summer’s wearied sighs can be limited, her melodies are mostly uncomplicated, her lyricism, like glorious nudes with beautiful imperfections. But that’s not the true beauty and enticing fervor behind Kimberly Summer and “Listen” - it’s the way she makes this otherwise lean musical landscape stretch a long way. You gotta agree-sweet, sentimental indulgences like these are such hard habits to break. []

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