Kris Delmhorst: Blood Test

Blood Test
Signature Sounds #2065
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Back in 1996, Kris Delmhorst was a fresh new voice on the folk scene. Now she's an experienced performer and Blood Test–the titular song on her first collection of originals since 2008–reminds us she's been on the road long enough to lapse into a nostalgic mood: Remember how it used to be?/Nothing on the radio and nothing on TV/Just us and all those hours/The humming roads, the singing stars/We could listen in,we could drown it out... It's a blood test, tell me are you real? She returns to her past on "92nd Street," an homage to her New York childhood. Eighteen years on stage and six of motherhood give Delmhorst the right to be wistful. In fact, the tone of Blood Test puts me in mind of material from Patty Larkin's (or maybe Suzanne Vega's) backlist–especially the spare arrangements, the phlegmatic vocals, and lyrical twists that skirt the borders between description, irony, and unease. On "Bees," for instance, she sings: Well the leaves are turning gold/They're turning red and gold/God at least there's something changing.... Sameness also surfaces in "We Deliver."

Are these musings on the inuathenticity of modern life, reflections on social problems–a theme she decidedly explores on "Homeless"–or rumblings from her own soul? A little bit of all three? Deliberately ambiguous? Those answers would be her call, not mine. I can report, though, that there is a lot of light on this album to counterbalance gloom implied or real. "Bright Green World," for instance, is upbeat in theme and arrangment. Delmhorst was a big fan of The Cars, and this song pays homage to that band's pop-tinged-with-New Wave feel. There's also the jangly "Temporary Sun," which rocks out to Mark Spencer's electric guitar, Anders Parker's bass, and Konrad Meissner's drums. Add a few straight up folk songs and Blood Test passes the good album litmus test. I'll leave the rest to armchair pyschologists. Rob Weir

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