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Sharing the Stage: Sonya Kitchell & Ben Taylor

By Alan Lewis | Special to the Vermont Guardian

Posted December 8, 2006

Sonya Kitchell excitedly announced to fans this fall that she would be joining a 26-date national concert tour with Ben Taylor and his band, which was booked to start at Seattle’s Tractor Tavern in November.

Now, this joint singing venture is headed to Vermont, with a stop at Higher Ground on Tuesday.

To get a sense of what is to come, the Vermont Guardian asked Kitchell how the tour has gone so far.

“Every night is a new thing,” she said. “Mostly we’ve been doing our own sets, singing a couple songs together, but mainly we share one incredible band.”

In years past, much of Kitchell’s acclaim came from her accomplished, expressive use of her voice and its uncommon qualities such as remarkable flexibility, strength, clarity, and beauty. She slides effortlessly from note to note. But by the time of her lovely debut release, Cold Day, she was placing a lot of emphasis on her songwriting.

In her official biography, she speaks of a longing to “create even a fraction of the amazing body of work of a Joni Mitchell or Carole King or the Beatles.” She noted, “In the long run, I have high goals.” So it seems.

“A lot of my writing,” says Kitchell, “comes from where I live, which is in the country, and it is spectacular at all times of the year. Whenever life is crazy for me, I go for a walk in the woods near my house. It’s like clearing my palate, and then I can write and reflect. And a lot of times I write sitting on my bed and looking out my window at the hills and the trees. It’s just a really amazing place to create art from.

“My whole life I’ve been a sponge for everything around me. I soak it up, and I want to take as much of it as I can and make it part of myself.

“My dad was an abstract painter,” she continued, “and when people look at art that is nothing but washes of color, they see what they want to see or what they need to see in it. So I try to write in a way that people can take from it what they need to take from it, and they can hear what they need to hear.

“My jazz background has certainly come in handy,” she explained, “because it allows me to improvise, which I suppose is the basis of songwriting. Because really, when you begin writing a song you’re improvising.”

Kitchell told the Guardian, referring to this tour with the Ben Taylor Band, “The great thing about playing with another artist/songwriter is that at least I get a whole lot of feedback on my songs, and therefore am able to grow.” Apropos to this thought, she has also shared stages with Tuck & Patty, Shawn Colvin, and Taj Mahal who, like Kitchell, was raised in western Massachusetts.

Kitchell’s lyrics are simple and direct, while she creates appealing melodies that attract and hold the listener’s attention. Her music is highly accessible and sports sophisticated variations of tone and phrasing. All this may be heard to great effect on her latest release, Words Came Back to Me (Velour Recordings, 2005).

“I love to record,” she said, “because I am able to really hone in on the vast variety of colors possible in one’s voice.” In a 2005 interview, she allowed that a little looser, friskier sound is typical of her concert performances.

The present tour with the Ben Taylor Band is an interesting development in Kitchell’s career. “We are able to share an audience,” she said, “and therefore build our own audiences.”

The motion picture industry is soon to give Kitchell’s work a boost. Her original song, “Can’t Get You Out of My Mind,” is set for the soundtrack of the Bruce Willis and Halle Berry film, Perfect Strangers. Kitchell’s “Let Me Go” is to be featured in the Lifetime original movie, Absolution, starring Samantha Mathis.

What is unique about a Ben Taylor/Sonya Kitchell show? “Both artists sneaking their underage friends in the back door,” she said, bringing out an obscure side of her present tour.

“I played Higher Ground with Susan Tedeschi and had a wonderful time, so I’m looking forward to coming back.”

To groove to a now-seasoned show by Taylor, Kitchell, and “one incredible band,” Higher Ground is the place to go.