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Kim Richey hopes life is more sweet than bitter

By Jeffrey B. Remz, May 1997

The timing wasn't exactly stellar. Don't bother calling it "bitter sweet" for Kim Richey.

Her second album was about to drop, but, instead, of the usual slew of interviews and concerts to kick off the album, Richey kept her mouth shut.

Literally.

But not by design.

"I was sick and getting run down," says Richey from a stop in Utah in between gigs in Portland, Ore. and Boulder, Col. "I just sang too much. I just did everything wrong that I could for my voice at one time. It was all unfortunate events killing my (voice)."Richey played in the D.C. area in February prior to the March release of "Bitter Sweet." Richey and her band had use of the club all day long. "We never rehearsed, so we rehearsed for two or three hours. Then, I did an interview. I had no voice left. I did the show, which I probably shouldn't have done. It's a little bit before showtime. I could barely sing. (Guitarist) Kenny (Vaughan) came off the stage and said, 'wow, that was great. That was all smoking mirrors.' I did a meet and greet afterwards for at least an hour. I did everything I shouldn't have done."

The next morning, Richey was supposed to head to South Carolina for a Mountain Stage radio show. But due to no voice, next stop was Nashville, where the Ohio native now lives.

Despite being nominated for a Grammy for "Believe Me Baby (I Lied)," sung by Trisha Yearwood, Richey skipped the festivities and headed for a doctor. Richey learned that she may have broken a blood vessel in a vocal chord.

The doctor ordered complete voice rest - no talking at all. "I did heavy use of the fax machine and my notebook," says Richey.

After drinking tons of water and zippered lips, Richey's voice showed much improvement, easing into a schedule with an appearance on Conan O'Brien.

"Since that, I've been really careful with my voice," she says. "It's so much easier for me to sing."

"At the time, I went from being bummed out to being pissed off to being myself and having downtime. I tried to keep myself busy. That was the only way I was ever going to rest."

Richey also was concerned about doing any permanent damage. "That was scary as all get out," she says. "You just don't think anything like that is going to happen to you. You take that kind of stuff for granted, those gifts for granted. So, it was scary."

But now, Richey is ready, willing and most importantly able to talk about "Bitter Sweet."

The disc came out about two years after her self-titled debut, which yielded semi-hits "Just My Luck" and "Those Words We Said."

Richey's brand of country is in the same vein as Yearwood or Linda Ronstadt, a more pop oriented, singer-songwriter style.

The new disc differs from the debut in that it has a more acoustic feel with mandolin and acoustic guitar often spearheading the songs. The pace is a bit slower as well. Despite the changes, the quality remains high.

Richey says the goal was to "capture the essence of the songs. A lot of people asked me if I were nervous going into the second record because the first one did so well critically and everybody's waiting for the soph slump to set in."

"We had more than enough songs," Richey says. "We tracked 16 and used just 12. We were trying to capture the songs. We were out to get kind of a live feel. We were playing them and working out the arrangements and working them out live. When it came to record, we were just trying to do an enhanced version of what we were doing on the road."

"It's not as jangly as the first record," Richey says. "That's what the songs call for. Different songs need different instrumentation."

Part of the reason could be the use of her bandmate, Angelo, as producer. He replaced Richard Bennett, best known for his work with Steve Earle. Bennett was supposed to be at the helm, but had to back out due to a tour commitment with Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. "I was really sad about that," Richey says.

"I thought, what should I do?" she says. "What's plan B? Immediately, I thought of Angelo. We do all our demos together with...Ang is playing everything. I went in and asked (Mercury Records head) Luke (Lewis) if Ang could do some. Luke said, 'How much money do you need?'"

"To me, it made sense," Richey says. "There was a little bit of convincing down the line, but they're really happy with what happened. Mercury's really great. They let you do artistically what you do."

Keith Stegall, Mercury head of artist & repertoire, said, "Somebody has to give you a chance if you're a record producer...Luke and I felt they could make the record, but Angelo hadn't produced anything for us before. There was probably a little bit of guarded anticipation, but God he pulled it off."

Instead of watching over her shoulder and forcing her to re-record songs as other labels sometimes do, Richey says she was given a free hand. "I know it's not the normal thing. It's all ever I've ever known. This is some kind of freak of music. It's not the regular way, so I'm really really lucky."

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