December 1999

Katy Moffatt - Loose Diamonds
HighTone HCD8109
Released: 1999

by Marc Rigrodsky

Musical Performance **1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on CD]De-evolution as revolution. New traditionalism. Duty now for the future. Some kind of weird Devo flashback? No, it’s Katy Moffatt’s new release, Loose Diamond, which aims to take country back to the good old days when there was real heartbreak in the sad words and weepy steel-guitar licks.

Moffatt, a veteran of the music scene since the mid ‘70s, knows there’s plenty wrong with what passes these days for country music. This disc’s liner notes proclaim that she is "still here" to revive "the edgy soulfullness [sic] of the music." A worthy and noble goal, to be sure. In her quest for authenticity, she even got roots rocker Dave Alvin to produce the album.

Unfortunately, their collaboration has resulted in a slick museum piece, a genuine reproduction. The songs -- two co-written by Moffatt; one by Lawton Jiles, a former writer for Patsy Cline (now that was country!); and the rest by a diverse assortment of writers (ranging from Lieber/Stoller to Hank Williams, Jr.) -- all dwell on the same theme: love gone bad. Moffatt has a lovely, shining voice, and Alvin employs all the right instruments (steel guitars, mandolin, fiddle, accordion, dobro, etc.). However, the combination results in a clean, shimmering, but ultimately antiseptic sound that strips the songs of their passion. The record sounds like it was recorded in L.A., which it was. After listening to the album, it is hard to imagine Moffatt waking up in a squalid double-wide with an empty bottle of Jack by the bed and a hangover the size of Texas. Try saying that about any of the real legends of country or even a contemporary artist such as Lucinda Williams, whose gritty lyrics and vocals are enhanced, not distracted, by modern arrangements and production.

Don’t get me wrong; Loose Diamond sounds beautiful and Moffatt’s voice is easy on the ears. I would rather listen to her attempt to re-create the past than to any of the current crop of singing empty cowboy hats (which includes both guys and gals). Maybe next time Moffatt will book a small studio in Tennessee and employ the local pickers and fiddlers in her search for the Real Thing. She might just find it. Oh, and one final point -- if you want authenticity, next time cover Hank Williams, Sr., not Jr. (unless you’re looking for some football).