Sign up for newsletter
 

Album: Faith in the Shadows
Song: Magdelene
Control-click to download this song

Great music from Kerri Powers

By Rick Cornell, March 2009

Current Home: Connecticut

Age: Old enough to know better

Musical influences: Neil Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival, early Bee Gees, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Ella Fitzgerald, Gram Parsons

Artist Bio: "Faith in the Shadows" is a powerful album; just don't call it a comeback. Kerri Powers, despite some early less-than-ideal adventures in the record biz, was never down and never out when it came to music. After a couple of critically acclaimed releases in the late '90s and early '00s, Powers did decelerate her touring and recording schedule to focus on family, but she never stopped writing songs.

Enter "Faith in the Shadows," a collection of songs that owe as much to Raymond Carver and Flannery O'Connor as they do to any songwriting muse. The power (no pun intended) comes from all angles: the words, scenes, and characters, as well as Powers' seductively smoky voice and a musical backdrop that borrows from blues, trad country, folk at its most piercing and rock. Powers might never have truly gone away, but it's still nice to have her back.

CST's Take: Songs masquerading as short stories (or maybe the other way around) presented in a voice, part Lucinda Williams and part Jimmie Dale Gilmore, that haunts and penetrates


Country Standard Time: In so many of your songs, you really get a feeling for the protagonists through their words and thoughts. How much do you flesh out a character in your mind when writing? It feels almost like "method writing," where you're really crawling into their skin....
Kerri Powers: Thank you, that's interesting. I never thought of my writing as "method writing," but that's a great way of putting it. In short, crawling into someone's skin for me is just a way of saying I can relate. Maybe not entirely in every instance but enough to feel I'm writing about what I know. I don't think there is a person out there who can't relate to the protagonists in these songs in one way or another.

CST: Staying with the topic of characters in your songs: they tend to be desperate and on the verge. Why is it more fun (I assume) to write about those types of people?
KP: It's just the kind of writing I've always gravitated toward. I assume most of us are usually on the verge of something. I think it perpetuates life. And maybe desperation has a bad rap. I would venture to say being desperate usually leads to something hopeful. I think it's a matter of sitting at rock bottom for a while in order to figure it all out.

CST: Every song on "Faith in the Shadows" has at least one phrase or image that really grabbed me. Here are a few favorites: "lonely as the dial tone," "did you lay that lucky penny flat on cold-timbered steel?" "she sees the devil tumbling through the double loader doors." Are there lines that you are particularly proud of? Can you share any stories behind their origins?
KP: I'd like to credit my producer and co-writer Crit Harmon on "lonely as a dial tone." In Fireworks and Cheap Repairs. we tossed ideas back and forth before agreeing on that line and regardless of the context, I think that's exactly the kind of image that lends itself to the level of solitary awareness everybody is capable of. Most of the lines in the songs are all about images conjuring emotion. Magdelene. was written about a woman from my home town with schizophrenia. I used to see her on my morning run most days of the week; she would walk from the bus to the laundromat and used to tell me all the time that Jesus was coming. To this day, I don't know what her real name is, but I call her Magdelene.

CST: Shadow of Someone has been around for over 10 years. What do you remember most about writing it? Is this a revisiting of the song or is it the first time it's been recorded?
KP: What I remember most about writing the song initially is how I felt about it: it didn't feel right because it was never finished. I'd say it's the most personal song on the album. I wrote the song years ago and never really liked it. It never passed my songwriting standards. It was recorded on an EP that I released in the mid to late 90s, and I always liked the melody so decided to rewrite it. It's one of my favorites on the album.

CST: Speaking of shadows, the first line of your bio has this: "Kerri Powers has spent much of her professional career singing in the shadows." Can you elaborate on that? And I'm sensing a connection to the Faith in the Shadows title....
KP: It means that I haven't really put as much focus on having a career in songwriting and music as I would have liked, but never gave up on it. I'm very dedicated to my work, but for obvious reasons have always been more dedicated to the responsibility of family. In addition, I have always been painfully aware of how good other songwriter/artists are. I wish I had the confidence years ago that I have now. My son is old enough now where I feel really good about touring and getting the songs and music out there.

CST: This might overlap a bit with the previous question, but you had some disheartening experiences with the music business and subsequently took a hiatus of sorts. What brought you back to songwriting and music, and what will keep you going now?
KP: I guess to some degree being disheartened is what keeps me going. I'm not that easily dissuaded. I was never heavily involved within the business - what happened was insignificant on the larger scale of things, but caused enough of a problem for me that I needed to step back from it and take some time to weigh things out. My perspective has changed for the better. It boils down to my believing and trusting in the mystery. I never stopped writing and playing, I just played the new stuff at home for my dog, Casey.

CST: Many sounds and styles echo in your work - roots rock, blues, country, sort of dark folk - and I suspect that might reflect a similar variety in the music you listen to. If we were to randomly pull five records out of your collection, what albums and artists might we find?
KP: Do I have to limit to five albums? (laughs) No shortage of Neil Young. Elvis Costello, R.L. Burnside, Ella Fitzgerald's "Love Songs: Best of the Verve Songbooks," Tom Waits' "Alice," The Smiths' "Louder Than Bombs," Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" and everything from Patsy Cline and Hank Williams to Andrew Bird's "Noble Beast" and songs from Jenny Lewis' "Acid Tongue."


More info on Kerri Powers