Singer-songwriter Kim Richey says she “went out on a limb” with her most recent album. She told her agent she’d have an album ready by April. Her agent started booking gigs, but at the time there were more than a few details left for Richey to figure out – like when the album would be recorded, what label would release it, and what songs she would write for it.
Thorn In My Heart will come out next week, and Richey will perform at Jammin’ Java on Sunday in support of the new release, but it wasn’t until she and producer Neilson Hubbard had penned the album’s title track that she had some reassurance that the album would come together.
“As soon as we wrote that one, I thought, ‘OK, maybe it’s all going to be all right,’” Richey said.
The Nashville-based musician has for decades been a songwriter, even before the release of her debut album in 1995, but she says she’s still surprised when she’s able to put a good song together.
“It’s like, ‘phew, I think I can still do this,’” Richey said.
Her track record would suggest the doubt is unwarranted: Richey has written No. 1 hits recorded by country singers Trisha Yearwood and Radney Foster, and has charted songs from her own seven-album catalog.
Richey’s songs have long been recorded by country artists – The Dixie Chicks, Brooks & Dunn, Terri Clark, and the list goes on – but her own recordings are genre-spanning, sometimes poppy, sometimes rootsy, and often broadly considered Americana. The touring she’d done leading up to Thorn In My Heart had taken her in a specific direction, though. Thorn In My Heart would be her country album.
She began writing the album when she returned from touring as a trio, with Hubbard on guitar and Dan Mitchell on keyboards. The limits on instrumentation that came with performing as only three musicians changed the style of the music the trio made. They focused on singing, the vocal harmonies they could create. Richey had performed a Kris Kristofferson cover for a radio show; it resonated with listeners, and thus began a trend of folding songs with a traditional country style into her shows.
“We just started leaning more in that direction as we kept touring, then when it came time to make the record, that was the kind of record that we wanted to make,” Richey said.
The restrictions of the stage were no more in the studio. Stand-up bass, drums, multiple keyboards, and multiple guitars could be added to the mix. Guest performers were also included, and they’re numerous and varied on Thorn In My Heart, including alt-country singer-songwriter Jason Isbell; indie rockers Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket and Pat Sansone of Wilco; and Trisha Yearwood, whose recording of Richey’s “Believe Me Baby (I Lied)” earned the country music singer a Grammy nomination.
Now that she’s starting her spring tour this week, the album’s songs will be stripped down to be performed by a small act on the road.
“What you try to do is to focus on the essence of the song, and to get that across,” Richey said.
But fans who buy her CD will have the chance to listen to her songs in their rawest form. With the purchase of the album, listeners will get a bonus copy of Richey’s “work tapes,” acoustic recordings of the album’s tracks made right after the songs had been written. She had originally planned to distribute a few such recordings leading up to her album’s release date, but at the suggestion of her label decided to put the whole set out. So with Thorn In My Heart comes an intimate look at the making of an album that began with a risky promise.
• For more information about Kim Richey, visit kimrichey.com.