With only a banjo and voice at its forefront, “Oh Darlin’” doesn’t use many sonic ingredients to get its point across, but get its point across, it does. Written and performed by the Canadian musician Kaia Kater, the tune checks off all the requisite bluegrass and folk tropes. This song is one any singer should be proud to call her own, but it’s a particularly noticeable achievement on Kater’s part; at the quite young age of 21, she already displays a no-nonsense know-how about roots and folk music that should be the envy of any person of any age.
“Oh Darlin’” features on Kater’s new LP, the appropriately titled Sorrow Bound. (As the classic saying goes, “With bluegrass, if you want to be happy, listen to the music; if you want to be sad, listen to the words.”)
Kater says to PopMatters about the tune, “‘Oh Darlin’’ is the first song I ever wrote on the banjo; I was trying to get a feel for that old time sound while also writing from my own experience. The song speaks to themes of women helping women. In this case, an older woman—maybe an aunt or a mother—is telling her younger kin that their husband is abusive. The entire song is a ballad pleading the younger one to leave him. We never know if she does or not. I intentionally created a sharp drop off from the story because it was not meant to be a tale of triumph or disaster, but one that observed human dynamics and reported them as they were. They might not have been so different then than they are now.”
If “Oh Darlin’” is the sound of Kater trying to “get a feel” for the banjo, suffice it to say she is off to one fine start.
Sorrow Bound is out now.