Kim Fox's songs on Listen to the Music are little literary gems.
"I am impressed by how much of my grandparent's life depended on continuities, contacts, connections, friendships, and blood relationships."
-- Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
Kim Fox's "An Eye for an Eye" is the best revenge song since "The Night the Light Went Out in Georgia". It's a big call, but it's absolutely true. About a man seeking vengeance over the murder of his son, "An Eye for an Eye" calls to mind the best of old Nashville. A guts-and-all tale of retribution and mistaken identity, Fox's storytelling on the song is as compelling as Bobby Russell's. In fact, as far as songwriting and performance vigor, it's up there with Johnny Cash's "Sam Hall" or John Prine's "Late John Garfield Blues"; songs about men of circumstance that rip from their composers the kind of raging calm that comes only from pride, indecision, or fear. Fox's "Eye" protagonist lives, and dies, for all three.
As principal songwriter and singer for 3 Fox Drive, formerly the Fox Family, Kim Fox is a major talent. It's not hyperbole; this woman is a bluegrass master of all trades. Her writing is excellent, and her Appalachian-edged voice, (she shares lead vocal duties with her sister, Barb, also wonderful), is strong and caressing. Seven of Fox's compositions (or co-compositions) appear on 3 Fox Drive's new Listen to the Music, and it's little surprise to find hers are the record's best. They're fresh, they're engaging, they're all those fancy thesaurus words for just-fucking-awesome.
Co-written by Susanne Mumpower-Johnson, "This Little House of Mine", for instance, is like something from an Anne Tyler novel. The song is about growing up and moving on from a memory-filled home -- a straightforward enough theme and yet Fox's skill as a lyricist shift it up a notch, using imagery not just to describe places and emotions, but to draw them together to add major substance to the narrative. Every line stirs in the listener exactly what the song-experience stirs in Fox. The singer notes leaving her bike behind at the house, along with growth-indicator marks on the wall, hoping that the home's new occupants will find them. The excitement of youth, growth, and change are all represented in such simple words and images: "I taped a note behind the door, / I didn't know who it was for, / But some new kid would know much more, / Than I did when I moved in. / I told him how the hallway light, / Could keep all monsters out of sight, / And how the third step from the bottom, / Would wake your mama up at night".
Fox edges into family history and friendship drama on most of her tracks here. "Between Me and Jolene" is a lament about sisterhood ("Secret codes we made up, / Things we were afraid of, / Pink swear, / Times infinity"); "Red Rose Bouquet" is a about a romance cut short ("She didn't want to leave the cemetery, / She could smell the sweet gardenias in the air"); and "Short Walk to the Moon" is a spirited romance delivered with an understated, calm vocal and more of Fox's clever writing ("It seems like forever since I've seen cloud nine, / I'm on fifteen and climbing, in record time").
There's nary a damp spot on here. The singer and her world class band, including Barb and Joel Fox, Mike Anglin, Megan Lynch, Jim reed, Eric Darken and Randy Kohrs, have built something so special with Listen to the Music. Even their bumpy cover of that Doobie Brothers' song is festival-ready magic -- and as the title of the collection it sends a clear message from the band: check us out, have fun, see what we've got, never look back.
With excellent releases this year from Nickel Creek, the Hackensaw Boys, Eliza Gilkyson, Abigail Washburn, String Cheese Incident, and now this one, 2005 continues as new bluegrass's biggest year yet.