The new album Edgeland from Kim Richey is the eighth in a string of country/pop albums that are remarkable for their consistency in tone and quality. While she was initially inspired by the song poetry of Joni Mitchell and Karla Bonoff, her college forays with future power pop star Bill Lloyd lit the fire for what, years later, would become one of the freshest sounds coming from Music Row in the 1990s and beyond.
In this episode of The String, Kim tells me about early dead ends trying to get into performing and how she almost blew off the biggest opportunity of her life after settling in Music City. Her path, though unconventional, worked for her. Since the release of her self-titled debut, Richey has been a cherished artist in Americana. Her voice is sturdy but calming, clean and gentle but penetrating. And her songs are relatable plights of the human heart framed in the kindly candor of her Midwestern roots.
In this in-depth conversation, Richey talks about how she moved to Vail, Colorado after college and worked a variety of jobs, including nature centers and restaurants. But she wanted to make music. That required approaching some strangers. It didn’t go great at first:
“I was pretty shy and I didn’t play guitar that well. I was kind of writing songs a little bit but not too much. I loved singing. And there was a band that played covers and I got up the nerve, which was a big deal for me, to go to one of their rehearsals one time and say ‘do you think maybe I could sing a song with you some time at rehearsal?’ And they said ‘No.’ And I was like ‘Oooh, that was it for me. I’m never doing that again!’”
She was signed to Mercury Nashville at age 37. That and her supposedly esoteric tastes in music made her something of a unicorn on Music Row.
“I had to go around to all the country radio stations. They were not buying it. People who’d come to the shows were great. But the radio stations were not. I mean I had one guy draw me a diagram on a napkin. He said ‘you are a star, but you will never be accepted at country radio.’ And that guy’s still doing it! I was suspect because I drank iced coffee and had spent time in New York.”
Richey is incredibly easy going and natural on stage, which has bonded many fans with her over her two decades. I asked her about a favorite.
“We have Ed and his last name has loads of letters in it with a -ski at the end. And Ed is from Ohio, around Akron. But he’s been coming forever and he’s just the sweetest guy. He’ll bring us presents from his neighborhood. Really great chocolates. He’s always really helpful on social media. I’ve got some really nice fan people who I can count on.”
The String is WMOT’s conversation show about culture, media and American music, hosted by veteran music journalist Craig Havighurst. It airs on WMOT Roots Radio on Sundays at 8 am and Mondays at 9 pm. The podcast is widely available on iTunes and other podcast platforms.