Diva La Grande

Candye Kane

Antone's / Discovery Records, 1997


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


My wife has recently been watching reruns of the television show "In Living Color," mainly because she is a Jim Carrey fan. One skit they did early in the show's history was "Hey Mon," a fictional television series about a Jamaican family who hold down more jobs in one day than I'll ever hold in my lifetime.

I bring this up because today's review subject, Candye Kane, reminds me a bit of that show. She's been, among other things, a welfare recipient, an X-rated actress, a phone sex operator, a gay-rights activist (she is an admitted bisexual), mother of two, wife of a musician and, on top of all that, blues singer.

Let's be frank here: when Antone's sent me her latest release Diva La Grande, I can't say that I was particularly excited about reviewing it. (No offense to anyone at Antone's who may be reading.) But the more I read, both in the press material and on her "Mi Vida Loca" section on Discovery Records' web site, the more intrigued I became. So, off with the shrink wrapping and into the CD player...and what I heard blew me away.

I'd be hard-pressed to say that Kane is on a level of other famous female blues belters like Koko Taylor, Katie Webster or Bessie Smith, but she holds her own remarkably well. If only she would be willing to separate a little of her past from her music -- we'll talk about that momentarily.

Kane's vocal range is a tad limited - she doesn't have the whiskey-soured, gravel-tinged growl that I'm more accustomed to. Instead, her vocal style is more laid back like the California lifestyle she has enjoyed. This is not necessarily a bad thing; instead, it gives the music a little more of a rockabilly texture to it. And she does show from time to time that she has a powerful set of pipes,and knows how to use 'em.

Acting as the anchor throughout the album is pianist Sue "Beehive" Palmer, whose piano licks are often quite tasty (though I would have preferred to hear her more in the foreground on the instrumental number "Beehive"). Most of the other musicians backing Kane and Palmer are quite talented - but I definitely found Eric Hokkanen's violin to be annoying. (For that matter, I'm not crzazy when Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown whips out the fiddle.) The fact that the use of instruments changes from track to track can be exciting at times - from harmonica to banjo to piano, even to the fiddle.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The songwriting is, for the most part, more mature than one would expect reading the past history of Kane's life. "Love 'Em & Forgive 'Em" is a swinging track that has more than a touch of gospel in it - but the showboating in the beginning of the song and right near the end could have been cut. "The Lord Was A Woman," co-written by the album's co-producer Dave Alvin is a slightly irreverent (but not sacriligeous) view on religion, while "Gifted In The Ways Of Love" is a song which could be taken in more than one way, though I prefer to stick to a PG-rated version. "Homewrecker," "I Got A Feelin'" and "It Should Be Rainin'" also stand out on Diva La Grande.

That's not to say there are no numbers here you shouldn't play with the kids clustered around the stereo. "All You Can Eat (And You Can Eat It All Night Long)"... well, let's just say this ain't about no diner. And I don't blame Kane's X-rated past on this; sex has always been a part of the blues; at one point, I remember there was an album out called Copulatin' Blues. 'Nuff said.

The swinging number "I'm In Love With A Girl" easily could have been written by a man and covered by Kane, even though she did co-write the song. Despite the title, it is hardly an ode to lesbianism, but is more of a humorous track that makes light of the situation. Having just said that, I do kind of wish that Kane wouldn't feel like she has to rely on her lifestyle and her past (moreso on her past) to craft a song or to promote herself. Frankly, I think that her music speaks loudly enough about her talents; she should be able to attract attention with this rather with the fact she plays piano with her breasts in her live show. I agree with what she says near the end of "You Need A Great Big Woman" that you need to love who you are; it's just that I think she doesn't need to rely on gimmicks to get her point across.

Assisting Kane on this one is her husband Thomas Yearsley, who is also the bassist for The Paladins (check these guys out if you get the chance - they've been criminally ignored for far too long) and labelmate Toni Price, whose latest disc is also sitting in the growing "to be reviewed" pile in the Pierce Archives (welcome back, Dennis Rodman). One notable duet between Kane and Price is a cover of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'," a song which doesn't grow on the listener until after a few listens.

If you were to pick this CD up without knowing anything about Kane's past, you would think that Diva La Grande was a decent blues-swing album. Knowing her past, it makes the success of this album all the more surprising -- this is hardly a fluke. With a little more time (and possibly a hint of grit in her voice), Kane could seriously establish herself as a prominent blues artist. Diva La Grande is one that's worth searching out and listening to when you are in the mood for something a little more raunchy than the Spice Girls.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Antone's / Discovery Records, and is used for informational purposes only.