May 28, 2008
by Sam Pfeifle
I don’t care if you’re [whomever the most famous woman vocalist is right now — Kelly Clarkson?]: If you finish up a gig in Lexington, Kentucky, and Glen DaCosta walks up and tells you y’all are going to work together? That’s pretty flattering. DaCosta’s one of those men behind the men, a guy who played trumpet on Kaya and a bunch of other Marley discs (I picked Kaya ‘cuz I’m an “Is This Love” fan), plus stuff with Yellowman, Alpha Blondy, Scratch Perry and the Upsetters, Burning Spear, Toots and the Maytals — well, lots of cats. He’s a reggae pioneer.
This guy asks you to jet down to Jamaica to record, you’re pretty much on the first plane. Hence, our own Kate Schrock’s Invocation, a new album featuring DaCosta, recorded mostly at the Studio with Steve Drown, but with “additional tracking” in Jamaica, at King Medori Studio. I’m guessing local studio stalwarts like Ginger Cote (drums), brother Nate Schrock (bass and guitar), Steve Jones (guitar), Marc Chillemi (trumpet), and Nyah Henderson (bass) did their work in Maine, while DaCosta laid down an assortment of sax, flute, and various other horns in his hometown. The production is flawless, so you’d never know they weren’t all in the same room, but there are songs here that speak of Jamaica and others that are more like the Portland-suburb Schrock you’re already down with.
“Soul in U,” at song three on the new disc, is the first with a dub open, heavy on the two-tone upstroke. Schrock’s delivery, always clean and soulful with hardly ever a throwaway line, doesn’t change much for the verses here, but she seems to ride the reggae vibe in the uplifting chorus: “Is it the soul in you that I’m seeing through to tonight?/Ain’t there nothing I can do to comfort you in your flight?” There’s some crisp right-hand piano work in the bridge, and the guitar and sax develop nice chemistry by the finish.
Schrock gets all kinds of Rasta with “Message to Babylon,” though, opening with an “I and I,” emphasizing her oneness with the Jamaican people, and riding a thrumming bass line that’s allowed to take center stage mid-song. This is a genuinely hot tune, going beyond smart songwriting into fun, pop reggae. This is what happens when you work with new musicians — you get taken out of your comfort zone and into material Schrock likely wouldn’t have felt comfortable addressing on her own. It’s authentic not just because of DaCosta’s pedigree, but because you believe it on the first listen.
I never really believed Dylan’s “I and I,” from Infidels, and I’m just okay with Schrock’s take on his “I Will Remember You.” Her tone is great from the open, and I like the distorted guitar and muted trumpet, but the lyrics just make me think of that Sarah McLachlan tune and I prefer not to be reminded of her when listening to Schrock. They’re both women and play piano, but I think less and less that they have much in common.
Anyway, I’d rather Schrock rock out like on the closing “Home,” with DaCosta’s flute again, spaced-out, a fuzzed and foggy bass, and a rolling left hand on Schrock’s piano to echo that fuzz. The drums tell us it’s a rock song and Schrock’s heavy piano chords confirm the story. Or Schrock should get much more spare, just her vocals and the piano, as she does on “Moon.” I still think my favorite release of hers is the Live at the Majestic album from 2001, where everything’s stripped down and poignant and this tune brings me back there, with great lines like, “we’ll laugh like criminals/And make love like the thugs that we are,” and an arcing falsetto that pinches you on the back of the arm.
She even gets angry here, something different from her more common languid and thoughtful delivery. On “Why,” the single that will be released nationally in June, the lilt in her voice has a sexy swagger, and, “I swear, I hear one more person lie/I’m going to tear down these walls, open your eyes/Reach into your heart and say, Why, why, why, why?” It’s visceral in a way that makes you think some of that’s not just metaphor. By the time we’re told “we’re all walking zombies,” backed by a great electric guitar run and some crazed half-scat vocals, I’m totally in Schrock’s corner.
Hey, Covered in Bees did a zombie movie, right? How’s that for Schrock’s next collaboration?