Chitlin Fooks: Did It Again

Chitlin Fooks
Did It Again
Hidden Agenda

About 10 years ago, that beautiful country chanteuse K.T. Oslin sang a song called “I Don’t Remember Your Name (But I Remember You)” for the soundtrack to Peter Bogdanovich’s film about Nashville’s Bluebird Café and the dreams either made of destroyed within its walls. K.T. featured in the film, as the bar manager come star maker who ran the café and saw to it to teach Samantha Mathis’s character a thing or two about dignity. And, her song remains one of the loneliest tales country music has ever told.

K.T. is one of those women who can sing just a note and bring to mind images of a woman’s struggle to find her place in the world. She’s an artist unafraid of coming off as brash one minute and vulnerable the next, someone who can be strong and individualistic while still displaying her softer side.

For many years I’ve tried to find a voice to equal the rare beauty of K.T. Trisha Yearwood and Reba McEntire come frighteningly close, and though they can both wear their hearts on their sleeves while fighting their way through any kind of misery, they don’t have the edge K.T. has that makes her sound like she’s been thrown against a wall on more than one occasion only to stand up and continue making the coffee. Wynonna Judd is another one who springs to mind as a powerful female influence, and, of course, Loretta and Dolly are in a whole other class by themselves, but K.T. — who’s ever gonna match K.T.?

Strangely enough, after all this time, K.T.’s possible match comes in the form of Chitlin Fooks singer Carol Van Dyk, a woman in no way versed in Nashville heartbreak, or the isolation of a Georgian swamp — Van Dyk hails from the Netherlands, but listening to her band’s second disc, Did It Again, you’d never know it.

Van Dyk and her singing (and writing) partner Pascal Deweze, better known for their involvement in bands Bettie Serveert and Sukilove, have taken their idea of making a country record infused with soul and gospel influences and created 34 minutes of stirring, emotional music. The couple are so in tune with each other’s talents and abilities that on the numerous duets (sometimes consisting of one singing lead and the other backing with strong harmonies), their voices practically become one, an instrument on it’s own, digging deep into their collective hearts for the gusto to belt these tunes out.

Opener “Did it Again” is a truly stunning piece. Van Dyk’s vocal is an odd combination of Aimee Mann and Gwen Stefani, entirely free of Nordic nuance, while Deweze stirs up images of Bob Dylan and James Taylor. These vocals are simply astonishing, and chased with extraordinary old-school country sounds emanating from a mandolin and a pedal steel, they tear the moody ode to self-reflection apart, proving right out of the gate their definite skill.

What gives Van Dyk her edge over other country voices, however, is her passion when baring her soul, her inadequacies and weaknesses. There is a rare curative truth to her words, which are always ultra-personal, somehow sad and uplifting at the same time.

“I lie to myself and I call it defense / If you knew me well / You would know it made sense / Because my soul is too soft and my will too intense / And I get that all at my own expense”, she sings on the painfully beautiful “Sorry”, reviewing her faults before demonstrating a strict self-knowledge and belief later with “So don’t say I’m sorry / When you don’t really know me / Because I’m not the kind to repent / I will always find my way home again”.

Van Dyk’s stunning talent continues on the empowering “Too Good to Be True” bringing to mind memories of Oslin and Dottie West and the tragic, folksy “Go Easy on Me” is reminiscent of Emmylou Harris and Ricki Lee Jones. But, while her voice is suited for the silky smoothness of rich country ballads, fresh and fiery tracks “Oh, Joanna” and “Don’t Wait Up” demonstrate her ability to get the party started — the honesty inherent in her words is elevated by her edgy delivery.

She may not match the experience and splendor of K.T. Oslin, but damn if she doesn’t come mighty close.

Though Deweze proves himself track after track as a cautious, precise country balladeer (excelling on “If One Day” and “Almost too Close”), his dominance on the album, headlining on the majority of the songs on Did it Again, sees Van Dyk often taking a back seat. My only gripe with the disc comes with a desire to receive lesson after lesson from Van Dyk and furiously original writing style and gorgeous vocals.

It’s a small problem, though, as these two are just a delight to listen to. And had they ever made it down to the Bluebird ten years ago, K.T. would surely have pinned up at least one of their tunes in that rusty old cabinet of classics.