Re-releases of artist compilations often smack of desperation, but any unsuspecting soul who hasn’t heard of Kimmie Rhodes should repair with great haste to their nearest download site to buy this absolute jewel of an album.
Texas native Rhodes has been releasing albums since the early ’80s and has earned the reputation of being a songwriter’s songwriter, with everyone from Willie Nelson, Trisha Yearwood and Wynonna covering her material.
Her own albums have only appealed to a small but devoted audience, although for the life of me it is difficult to explain why she has not enjoyed the same fame as her nearest parallel, Emmylou Harris.
Originally issued in 2005, Ten Summers compiles material from 1995-2005 that was primarily released on her Sunbird Records label. Its current re-release is a tie-in with her British tour and any interested listeners are heartily recommended to check Rhodes out in concert.
The compilation runs neatly in order, opening with four tracks from her 1996 album West Texas Heaven. The title track is a killer travelling song up there with the best from her male counterparts. Speaking of which, Waylon Jennings adds his inimitable vocals to Maybe We’ll Just Disappear while on I’m Gonna Fly Rhodes coaxes a very ill Townes Van Zandt into delivering one of the best vocals of his later years.
Rhodes sneaks in a rarity, the wistful The Road To Jubilee before the final track from West Texas Heaven. I’m Not An Angel initially sounds the kind of mawkish country peddled in Nashville these days, but repeated plays reveals the inherent beauty at the heart of the song and the subtle depths of Rhodes’ vocal.
2000’s Rich From The Journey was a real grower of an album. Moving away from the rootsy Americana of its predecessor, the album’s gossamer melodies appeared to be aiming for a more middle of the road market. Give tracks such as Rich From The Journey and Thank You For Another Day time to work their magic and the listener will be rewarded, with the title track managing to nail a lyric that transcends triteness to attain a kind of higher truth.
Willie Nelson turns up to lend a hand on the title track from 2002’s Love Me Like A Song, presumably appreciating the subtle lyrical wordplay that he has been specialising in over the years. It also indicates a gentle stroll back into more familiar country territory, a fact that Only Love Can Save Me Now and Send Me The Sun confirm. Emmylou Harris and Beth Nielsen Chapman lend vocal support on the latter, highlighting the quality of Rhodes’ address book (Harris also crops up on the utterly gorgeous folkish lament Love & Happiness For You).
Unfortunately nothing from the Nelson/Rhodes duet album Picture In A Frame is included here (you will just have to buy it separately as it is worth every penny). The album closes with two tracks from 2005’s ambitious Windblown, which married Rhodes’ dramatist credentials with some bold arrangements. The title track and Desert Train transcend their roots in the original performance art piece from which they were drawn to stand alone as fine songs.
Of late Rhodes has been balancing her dramatic work with her musical releases. Ten Summers is a brilliant reminder that she remains one of America’s unsung songwriting greats, and to top it all one who sings like an angel.