Sometimes you can’t fully appreciate your home and surroundings until you leave it for awhile.
Take country/Americana songstress Kim Richey. An artist whose songs have helped fuel the careers of numerous country greats (Radney Foster, Dixie Chicks and Patty Loveless, among them) as well as her own indie-minded albums, Richey took an extended break from her Nashville digs in 2009 and relocated across the pond to live in London for three years.
Already well traveled (she recorded her Chinese Boxes in London with producer Giles Martin), Richey made new friends and discovered different cultures. But the songs she started to pen overseas didn’t always thrill her.
“A lot of times, I would be writing pop music in London,” Richey said. “But these were things I knew I would never put on a record. They were just more songs for the black hole.”
So a year ago this month, Richey came home – well, just north of home, really, to Goodlettsville, Tenn. There she found entirely new living quarters far removed from cosmopolitan life and set about constructing one of the finest albums of her 20 year recording career.
“I love being in big cities, but I think London finally got to me after a time,” Richey said. “Now I’m in a double wide trailer which sits out in the middle of nowhere. The first couple of months I was there I just couldn’t believe the space and the quiet. I could see the stars. Every time I would drive up to the place, I would think, ‘I can’t believe I live here.’ It’s so fantastic.”
What emerged this spring was a record called Thorn in My Heart, a sampler of 12 new tunes that expands the trio format Richey has toured with of late (with bassist, percussionist, producer and longtime songwriting pal Neilson Hubbard, and keyboard and flugelhorn player Dan Mitchell). But the tone of Richey’s songs remains intimate and often atmospheric. One work, in particular, could be viewed as a postcard of sorts from Richey’s travels.
“There is a song Neilson and I wrote, Something More, that’s kind of like a grouping of a lot of different things and a lot of stories that we know about each other and about people that we know. It’s like hearing about people moving to Nashville because they want to be a songwriter or a guitar player. These people have a dream and they pack up everything they have and leave home. And maybe once they got there, what happened was not quite what they pictured playing out. But these people never give up. It’s kind of about that. But it’s not any one experience, really.”
Helping fortify Richey’s trio sound is a hearty guest list that includes Americana mainstay Will Kimbrough, Pat Sansone of Wilco and Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket. But another guest had already forged an especially solid bond with Richey’s music.
Back in 1995, the year Richey issued her self-titled debut album, Trisha Yearwood turned her song Believe Me Baby (I Lied) into a career defining hit. On Thorn in My Heart, Yearwood returns the favor by singing harmony with new generation Americana great Jason Isbell behind Richey on Breakaway Speed.
“Trish is such a great singer,” Richey said. “I finally asked her to sing on a record of mine because I never had guests on one before. As soon as she opened her mouth in the studio, Neilson and I were like, ‘What else can we have her sing on now that we’ve got got her here.”
Having artists as varied as Yearwood and Isbell backing her on the same song also begs a bigger question. Does Richey’s true artistic allegiance fall within the mainstream country camp that helped ignite her career or the indie world that has been her artistic home for many years?
“It’s kind of too late at this point, really, to concern myself with that,” she replied with a laugh. “When I started out, I just wanted to make the best possible record I could of the music I really loved. Also, when I began recording at Mercury Records (which issued Richey’s first three albums), I was given complete artistic freedom. I had that from the get go.
“It’s funny, really. As we were making my very first record, nobody from the label came by the studio. We were in there for a couple of weeks. So I called over to the label, even though I didn’t really know anybody that well back then, and said, ‘You guys know we’re in here, right? You know were making a record?’ They said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘But nobody’s been here.’ They said, ‘We were waiting for you to invite us over.’
“That’s pretty extraordinary, I think.”
Kim Richey performs at 8 p.m. June 30 at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Admission is $15. Call (859) 259-2754 or go to www.beetnik.com.