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Kim Richey hopes life is more sweet than bitter

By Jeffrey B. Remz, May 1997

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Just when Richey thought the record was over, though, it wasn't. Richey headed to New York to see a friend and hang out. Her publisher hooked her up with John Sebastian and John Leventhal, a producer, writer, guitar player and Rosanne Cash's husband. Leventhal offered a "killer demo" of "I Know" in his apartment.

Richey played it for Lewis, who also liked it. What ended up on the disc is basically a demo of the song with Leventhal playing everything save skins.

The subject matter of the songs focuses squarely on affairs of the heart. Richey was uncertain about a title, but did not want to name it after a song. "I tried to look at the whole record," she recalls. "I look at it as a group of poems or short stories."

Richey sat on a couch at Lewis' home with Mercury personnel there for a listening party. "It just came to me," Richey says of the title. "Two words. It was really important that it be two words. That sums up the whole relationship thing. It's never all of either thing. It's a little bit of both. It's not all just sad and uptempo either."

Richey has had her sheer of bitterness. Her father drowned when she was just two.

She also possesses a sweet side, being goofy, humorous and warm.

As to whether the songs are necessarily autobiographical, Richey paraphrases her friend Mary Chapin Carpenter. "I hope to express my lyrics as opposed to exposing myself," Richey says. "Some things have happened in my life or (to a) co-writer or friends. It's honest lyrically, but it's not autobiographical."

Richey saw an optimistic streak to the record. "I'm Alright" underscores that, Richey says. "Lyrically and musically too. I think it's a song that people can relate to. Not great stuff happens to people a lot." She cited the need to "keep telling yourself you're okay. Things always change. It's always in flux. It's never all good. It's never always bad."

Richey wrote most of the songs with Angelo, but also writes with others. "It's a real social thing for me," Richey says of writing.

And she prefers writing with partners to prevent herself from lapsing into her bad habit. As for writing solo, "There's where my laziness manifests itself. It's just really hard for me to finish anything. The people I write with, I have huge respect for. They're great writers. I have no problems taking just an idea to these people and it will turn out into something I'm proud of."

"It's really hard for me to finish a song," Richey says. "I'm easily distracted."

Richey hasn't done too shabby writing with others in the past. Her first break came when she wrote "Nobody Wins" with Radney Foster, a hit for him. She connected with him because way back when she was in college some 20-odd years ago at Western Kentucky, she played with Bill Foster as in Foster & Lloyd. They kept in touch through her ventures to Colorado, Washington, Boston, etc.

While in Washington, she got turned onto Steve Earle and was never the same again musically.

Eventually, she hit upon moving to Nashville. "I never planned on staying there or doing this kind of career thing. If you asked me, I would have said 'No. I would never have been in Nashville in 10 years.'"

"I finally found something that I loved enough that would keep me in one spot," she says.

"I never thought it was a possibility as a career. Never really struck me as an option other than picking up extra cash."

Her biggest hit was "Believe Me Baby (I Lied)," a hit for Yearwood. An unnamed group was supposed to record it, but didn't, kept it on hold anyway to record it, but Richey asked for it back.

"It was going over really live," Richey says of the song. "We knew Trisha and those guys had wanted it when it was on hold."

Richey was at a record release party for Gillian Welch. An assistant to Yearwood's producer, Garth Fundis, asked if they could have the song.Richey told him she was doing it, but then told him to talk with Angelo.

In stepped Welch to change the fate of the song. "I loved her music and what she was doing. She wasn't going for a commercial sound. It tipped me to talk with Angelo, saying , 'let's talk about this.'"

Richey's attitude was the song would have a "bigger boost" with Yearwood at the vocals with the "bottom line, they'll do a great job." Richey gave the go-ahead on a Sunday night for Yearwood to record the song. By Monday, Yearwood did record the song, one of 1996's finest country singles.

"It went to number one," Richey says. "I'll get to eat next year. It's all good. It couldn't be better. What do I have to complain about? There's no guarantee that if we did the song, it would have gotten the support Trisha got. So, it's all good."

Richey gained further exposure last summer touring with Carpenter and Yearwood. The three sang background often when the others were center stage in a tour filled with camaraderie. "We had a blast. That was really really fun. It was great musically. It was great pal-wise to hang out with those girls and the people. We got a lot of exposure from that. A lot of people who hadn't heard of us before, we got to do our thing for them. I'm really proud of our live show. I think it's really really good."

In April, Richey toured England opening for alt country darlings Wilco. She recently toured with Junior Brown and will do dates with Robert Earl Keen.

As to where Richey will fit into the country marketplace is unclear.

Stegall acknowledged Richey wasn't exactly straight ahead country. "You've got an artist here who kind of pushes the boundaries of what country music is all about, which doesn't mean we're not committed. "

He said the label would do its utmost "whether it's Americana or AAA is where her audience is. This record label is a little bit different here because we are interested in the rest of the (music) world. Not that we're not interested in making country music. A record company is only as good as the people running it. Without sounding like a politician here, her music has a lot of the folky country roots that make country what it is."

"We're figuring out a way to get her heard," Stegall said.

Despite getting much play in Boston the first time around, Richey acknowledged she doesn't receive much radio support.

"I'm going to see what happens," Richey says of "Bitter Sweet." "I think it's definitely worthy of radio airplay. I've done my part. I've done what I'm supposed to do. I've made music and I'm really proud of it....If people want to hear it, call the radio stations or come to the shows."

And then Richey will be feeling more sweet than bitter.

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