Born in Brooklyn, New York, Kris Delmhorst has been living and working in Boston Massachusetts for the last twenty years. This latest release Blood Test, is her seventh studio album since her first record ‘Appetite’ in 1998. Delmhorst is a remarkably prolific artist in the Bostonian folk scene, working both as a collaborator and writing original work. Characterised by a smoky voice and a subtle approach to song writing, Delmhorst represents the intelligent side of American folk music, along the same vein as Joni Mitchell, Woody Guthrie with elements of Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen.
Blood Test is Delmhorst’s first record of original songs since the birth of her daughter in 2008. While the album is not explicitly about parenthood, it does explore the changes in perspective and outlook that having a child creates in a person. Thematically speaking, this album studies the effects of the fast pace of modern life on the slower, more measured speed of nature. There is a distinct plea for people to return to a more pastoral way of life, to be in touch with the land and to be aware of its limitations and breaking points. Joining Delmhorst on this record is old friend and brand new collaborator Anders Parker, along with drummer Konrad Meissner and Mark Spencer (multi-instrumentalist).
The titular track ‘Blood Test’ is the opener, sparse and plaint which sets the tone of the album. The simplicity of the vocal line gives a platform to Delmhorsts expansive voice – somewhere between Gillian Welch and Alynda Lee Sagarra in quality. In terms of lyrics, this song echoes the over-arching theme of the record, which is the ever increasing reliance on artificial means to explain the human condition. “It’s a blood test…. to tell me how you feel…”
This sentiment is reaffirmed in ‘Bees’, one of the highlights of the album. This song, with its melodically elegant vocal line, allows Delmhorst the space for her plaintive voice to soar, particularly in the octave leaps in the chorus. The relentlessly churning run of thoughts in the twenty-first century mind is the inspiration for this pensive lament. The endless buzzing in this modern hive of ours is preventing us from enjoying life in all its splendour.
In her own words, Delmhorst has stated that she wanted this album to be a minimalist effort, free from unnecessary baggage cluttering up the soundscape. “I was focused on paring things down to their elements, less flesh, more bone… letting the imperfections be part of the story”. This is a very apt description. However, instead of bones, the core structure of this album is more like the mast of the ship, with the lightness of voice and malleability of song writing acting as the sails – seemingly gentle and subtle, but in actuality is the resisting force with which allows movement against the elements. In short, Kris Delmhorst is up to her old tricks of being a sentinel of clever alternative folk, paired with a haunting voice and insightful lyrics. As ever, she represents the eye of the storm.