all she has to do is dream: a few minutes with kat edmonson

Kat Edmonson.

To paraphrase one of pop music’s beloved lyrics, all Kat Edmonson has to do is dream.

For this Texas-bred New Yorker, however, a dream isn’t always as quantifiable as most pop songsmiths would have you think. To that end, the vocalist took a few original compositions, a reexamined batch of standards from films (mostly Disney works) she absorbed as a child, added in some instrumental interludes and came up with “Dreamers Do.” The resulting album is a song-cycle that examines the creation of dreams, their place in a pragmatic adult world and how they unfold in a single, sleep-troubled night.

“I actually had the idea for the record before I had the songs,” said Edmonson, who performs Saturday at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville.
“I had this narrative that I wanted to convey – a metaphor, I guess, about how it is to follow our dreams in life and then in the course of a sleepless night. At the time, I was asking all these questions about dreams and what it is to pursue them. I was having a great deal of anxiety myself, waking up in the middle of the night and having very restless dreams. So the record starts with an invitation to dream and then takes the listener all the way through the course of the night.”

A versed songwriter who came of artistic age within a fertile Austin, Tx. songwriting community, Edmonson used one of her own songs, the light but lusciously orchestrated “Too Late to Dream,” to help launch work on “Dreamers Do.” But Edmonson is also a keen interpreter who has kept impressive company when approaching the work of other composers. Two fine examples: A Western-flavored version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” for a 2015 Bob Wills tribute album, “Still the King,” by Texas swing specialists Asleep at the Wheel (the tune was cut as a duet between Edmonson and Wheel-master Ray Benson) and an elegantly nocturnal take on “You Can Never Hold Back Spring,” part of the 2019 Tom Waits tribute album “Come On Up to the House: Women Sing Waits.”

“I wrote ‘Too Late to Dream’ in 2016 by specifically asking if there was a point in our lives when it becomes too late to dream. So naturally, I began referring to music of my childhood, including these 20th century Disney songs. That’s when I started to get an idea of arranging the tunes and interpreting them.

“I heard messages of hope in these Disney songs, like ‘A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes’ (from ‘Cinderella’) and ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ (from ‘Pinocchio’) – ‘When you wish upon s star, your dreams come true.’ And I believed that, with no doubt, at a very young age. Then I discovered, in all of my adult circumstances, that this was still true. I learned a lot about myself through the process of making this record.”

That doesn’t mean no liberties were taken. ‘When You Wish You Star’ doesn’t play out as the sentimental lullaby audiences have known it as for generations. Edmonson employs a dark, percussive, minor key arrangement colored by kora and tabla.

“I always wanted to record with kora. I was first exposed to the instrument on a subway platform one day after I moved to New York City. I wanted to take the approach with this song to convey the simultaneous experience we have when we pursue our dreams. It’s both exhilarating and frightening because we essentially don’t know where we’re going. We know where we want to be, but we don’t know the way there. So to bring in tabla and kora, these very earthy instruments, to convey that felt perfect because the setting I was after was dark, exciting and also kind of creepy.”

While “Dreamers Do” and most of Edmonson’s recordings emphasize a level of subtle orchestration that compliments the atmospheric lilt of her singing, the Norton Center performance will work from an even sparser setting with keyboardist Matt Ray serving as her lone accompanist.

“We have this really unique chemistry that I just don’t seem to have with another musicians. We kind of read each other’s minds and are liable to do anything because we feel so comfortable together. With only two people, the music really opens up. Matt has all of the orchestrations at his fingertips. I’m very curious to see what we happens.”

Kat Edmonson with Matt Ray perform at 7:30 p.m. March 14 at the Weisiger Theatre of the Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St. in Danville. Tickets are $15-$39. Call 859-236-4692 or go to nortoncenter.com.



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