Ilana Katz Katz – In My Mind
11 songs, 41 minutes
Ilana Katz Katz is a unique Blueswoman. Start with her instrument of choice: the fiddle. Sometime’s sawed on in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s in field hollers and Country Blues, the fiddle is not a common Blues instrument save the brilliant Gatemouth Brown. Then add in Katz Katz’s earnest and clear songwriting, expertly using the form to express love, life lessons, and reflect the hardship and joy of the world. Finally there is Ilana’s voice. Using a flat, at times detached delivery, Katz Katz wraps her lyrics in a truly original style. This is a style that has developed and solidified busking in the subway tunnels of Boston and what caught the ear of her mentor, local hero Ronnie Earl. On her newest record In My Mind, Katz Katz fully embodies her original unique Blues, connecting her musical dots between Chicago electric Blues, Appalachian reels and art-house avant garde cool.
In Your Mind is a real deal Blues album. This is in part because of Katz Katz’s real deal talent, but it is amplified by Johnny Burgin and his band – Stephen Dougherty on drums and Chris Matheos on bass. Rockin’ Johnny, as he used to be known, is one of the great torch bearers of the West Side sound. Working together while Burgin and company were bunking at Katz Katz’s house for some East Coast gigs in 2018, the group spent a day getting the basic tracks down. Ghost Town Blues Band leader Matt Isbell signed on as producer and he and Katz Katz assembled the music from the Burgin sessions, filling it out with 3 additional bare bones tracks into a cohesive and fully realized piece.
The result is an at times hard charging, at times introspective subway ride through Katz Katz’s music world. The soulful funk of the title track is a window into the narrator’s internal monologue. It is raucous with guitar fiddle interplay lacing a syncopated thump. “Won’t Pass Me By” is a relentless medium tempo swing in which Burgin pummels us with his hypnotic incessant rhythm guitar while Katz Katz flits over Matheos’ walking bass. Dripping menace, “Downtown with the Devil” struts along while “Ain’t No Why” and “Bad Child” groove and hop respectively.
The three non-band tunes add acoustic counterpoint to the clean electric energy of the other material. “Nine Souls” is a throbbing Bluegrass-esq rundown with Isbell multi-tracking a couple guitars while Katz Katz wails on both fiddle and vocal chords. This song is a depiction of the tragic church shootings in Charleston, SC in 2015. The solo instrumental fiddle workout “Hangman’s Reel,” with tambourine assist from Isbell, transports to a mountain top. The album closer “If” is Katz Katz’s solo multi tracked COVID reflection. Recorded in her closet (I guess the acoustics were good), Katz Katz offers somber clap and stomp catharsis. Wondering if “God was a woman” how would she act, this is a benediction for more peace, compassion and healing.
Ilana Katz Katz is a talented and engaged performer. It takes a lot to busk in the Boston MBTA subway and Katz Katz claims it gives her great joy. Like the seemingly endless flow of commuters and trains, in her music Katz Katz rides the waves of humanity, of human connection. In My Mind is a sparkling artifact of Katz Katz work, clear and honest, a little skewed, unique, and rewarding.