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Ilana Katz Katz: In My Mind
by George Graham
(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/15/2021)
The violin as an instrument certainly has a long and central place in much Western music. From symphony orchestras to Celtic music to Appalachian fiddle tunes, to the string sections used in pop records, and even in some rock music, the instrument can me found in many places, as a violin or fiddle, more or less depending on how it’s played. But one place where it is not very often heard is in the blues. There were some early blues fiddle players, and the late Papa John Creach who played with the Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna specialized in blues on the violin. But there are certainly a lot more harmonicas in the blues than fiddles.
This week, we have an interesting record by a fiddler who emphasizes the blues in her playing, but also covers rock and old time fiddle tunes. Her name is Ilana Katz Katz, which is her real name, and her new release is called In My Mind.
Ilana Katz Katz, began her performing career in 2008 busking in the Boston subways, and did so for some five years before hooking up with bluesman Ronnie Earl who appeared on her 2014 debut album. The new release In My Mind is her fourth album. Though she has toured extensively, she still enjoys playing to commuters in the subway when she can.
The new album consists of all original songs, but one, but most have the sound of historic blues styles from acoustic country blues, to more a rock-oriented direction. She is joined by guitarist Johnny Burgin, bassist Chris Matheos, drummer Stephen Dougherty, and Matt Isbell of the Ghost Town Blues band, who plays guitar and served as the producer.
The album opens with the title track In My Mind which is a retro rock and soul hybrid, in which Ms. Katz Katz’ fiddle playing is more secondary to the rock accompaniment and her vocals. <<>>
More in the line of “swamp blues” is a tune called Woman, Play the Blues addressing the relative scarcity of women on the blues scene. Here, her bluesy fiddle is a natural. <<>>
Nine Souls is an original song that sounds like an old Appalachian ballad. With her fiddle mixing an old-timey sound with a blues wail, the track is one of the highlights of the album. <<>>
Another tune with a down-in-the-swamp sound is Time to Go a kind of one-chord lament, in which Ms. Katz Katz’ rustic-sounding fiddle is quite effective. <<>>
Ain’t No Why goes more toward the electric style of the blues, and it doesn’t work as well. The fiddle seems more of an afterthought in the arrangement, and it does not play well to Ms. Katz Katz’ vocal style. <<>>
More in the Chicago style is Well Well Blues. One could either describe the lyrics of the tune as clever or rather dumb. But it’s hardly the first time blues songs have been less than poetic masterpieces. <<>>
The one traditional song on the album is Hangman’s Reel an old-timey fiddle tune. Ms. Katz Katz’ fiddle playing is at its best in this mode, and the track is another highlight of the album. <<>>
In My Mind ends with probably its most interesting track, both musically and lyrically, an original composition called If. The fiddle and percussion setting is quite effective, and the lyrics address larger issues. <<>>
In My Mind, the new fourth album by singer-songwriter-fiddle player Ilana Katz Katz, shows her versatility on the instrument, playing mainly the blues but also acquitting herself nicely on the old-timey fiddle style. Her vocals can be a bit rustic at times, but it frequently works well with the material. A number of her original songs sound as if they came from decades past, and the band does a good job keeping it real.
Our grade for sound quality is about a “B.” Ms. Katz Katz’ vocals can sound overdriven, to the point of some distortion at times, and that extends to other elements of the mix, though her fiddle is reasonably well-recorded.
While this album can have its occasional weaker spots, Ilana Katz Katz’ blues on the fiddle makes for engaging listening.
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