'˜Pretty Bird' Mattea

Over 35 years or so, Kathy Mattea has established a reputation as an award-winning country music singer.

Thursday, 17th January 2019, 11:40 am
Updated Thursday, 17th January 2019, 11:44 am
Kathy Mattea

She has two Grammy wins, four Country Music Association awards, four number one country singles, five gold albums and a platinum album.

Yet Mattea has succeeded in steering clear of traditional country music stereotypes.

Her eclectic approach is captured on her latest album, Pretty Bird, which ranges from Bobbie Gentry's country classic Ode to Billie Joe to an arrangement of the traditional folk song, He Walks Through The Fair to Mary Coughlan's folk gospel Mercy.

In addition to her reputation as a singer, musician and songwriter (The Washington Post describes her as 'one of Nashville's finest song interpreters'), her CV runs to public speaker and a social and environmental activist.

She was in Sheffield ten years ago following the release of her Coal album, which comprised covers of classic coal mining songs and reflected her growing up in Coalwood, West Virginia, where every adult male worked for the mine and every house was owned by the company.

Now Mattea is back at the Memorial Hall in Sheffield on Sunday January 27 as she tours alongside longstanding collaborator guitarist Bill Cooley.

Pretty Bird, recorded in Nashville and produced by Tim O'Brien, is a fine collection of songs that highlights other artists' compositions and Mattea's graceful singing.

It could have been so different, though. In recent years her deep, rich singing voice has experienced significant changes that could have permanently ended her performing.

But after extensive vocal training she has emerged from what she refers to as her 'dark night of the soul' with 'a duskier instrument' that can be judged in Sheffield on Sunday.

Mattea was born in South Charleston, West Virginia, as the only daughter of three children. She sang in her parents' church as a child, and in high school she performed at school shows and family gatherings. In 1976, while attending West Virginia University, she joined a bluegrass band and, two years later dropped out of school to move to Nashville.

She worked as a tour guide at the Country Music Hall of Fame, and then as a secretary and a waitress, in order to support herself while working as a demo singer. Songwriter, publisher, and record producer Byron Hill discovered her and helped her sign to Mercury Records in 1983.

Mattea's self-titled debut came out in 1984, with Hill and Rick Peoples as the album's producers. Mattea later noted that "there were no budgets" when she was recording the album, as she was unable to afford a $75 makeup session, and the front cover featured her wearing a jacket which she had purchased at a local supermarket.

Support for Mattea on Sunday comes from Edinburgh-born Roseanne Reid, who was nominated for the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2015. Now based in Dundee, the 26-year-old '“ who is the daughter of The Proclaimers star, Craig Reid '“ is preparing to release her debut album, Trails, which has been produced by Teddy Thompson and features a duet with Steve Earle.