|Peanut Butter Blues|
Dreamers Everywhere by Kathryn Mostow ’89 (www.butterflysound.com)
The opening track of Kathryn Mostow’s CD Dreamers Everywhere paraphrases the familiar quote, attributed to Margaret Mead, that a small group of committed people can change the world. Mostow’s soft finger-style guitar and honeyed vocals are straight out of the Joni Mitchell songbook, circa 1969; but in contrast to Mitchell’s poetic melancholy, Mostow looks on the sunny side. “I give thanks for all the good deeds unseen,” she sings, “and everyone who still dares to dream.”
With that song, called “I Give Thanks,” the Seattle-based singer-songwriter sets the tone for the CD, which follows her similarly warmhearted debut, Gratitude. In “Sun/Rain” Mostow reassures us that regardless of the weather, “we shine, we’re just fine.” “Hello World” and other songs make glancing references to the country being at war, but instead of expressing sadness or anger, Mostow vows to “raise up this hope for bluer skies.” Even when she lays aside altruistic concerns for a playful blues, Mostow remains chaste: she confesses a weakness not for the bottle or bad men but . . . peanut butter (“I even tried you twice,” she quips, “on organic long-grained rice”—a line that surely goes over well with the Seattle coffeehouse crowd).
In any case, Mostow’s gentle and soothing variety of contemporary folk banishes all hints of darkness. Her singing is consistently lovely, and several of her melodies—especially “I Give Thanks” and “Promise of Spring”—linger in memory. The CD’s production is sure-handed too, with sweet vocal harmonies and supple drum and percussion grooves behind the acoustic stringed instruments. In the gospel-style “All I,” the CD’s freshest-sounding track, Mostow and Alicia Healey (one of Mostow’s two coproducers) overdub voices into a Sweet Honey in the Rock–style chorus, accompanied only by finger snaps and bass.
The CD’s weaknesses lie in its lyrics—Mostow trades too often in platitudes (“Freedom begins at home”) and tired imagery (“The sun will shine, the rain will fall / As this world keeps spinnin’ round us all”). But these clichés may simply signal her relatively recent launch as a singer-songwriter; she spent a decade working in public health and only began to focus on guitar and song craft in the late ’90s.
A particularly hopeful sign is “Promise of Spring” in which Mostow envisions the muse as “a needle and thread” and “the green beneath the snow.” If she can ground her songs in more visual, visceral language and stronger storytelling—another lesson from the Joni Mitchell songbook—Mostow’s words could outshine her good intentions.
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers (www.wordsandmusic.info) is a contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered and author of Rock Troubadours and The Complete Singer-Songwriter.