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Kathleen Grace: No Place to Fall

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The elegant title song, written by Townes Van Zandt, opens the new album by this Tucson native, who now heads the vocal jazz department at the University of Southern California. That song sets a gentle, melancholy tone for the rest of the album, whether Grace is performing inspired covers or original material. At the same time, her band imbues the proceedings with jazzy country-rock arrangements that prominently feature guests such as pedal-steel player Greg Leisz, guitarist Anthony Wilson and bassist Erik Kertes.

Among Grace's originals, the moody epic "I'm on Fire" best displays her vocal skills—laserlike concentration, controlled tone and rich range. Her tunes "Emma," "Fine Young Woman" and "Goodnight" also evince an instinct for classic-country charm.

She also applies sharp curatorial skills in choosing a variety of covers that enliven the album and show off her abilities. Her inspired interpretations of the standard "Blame It on My Youth" (in loping, honky-tonk style) and Tom Waits' "The Briar and the Rose" (featuring guest vocalists Jamie Drake and Leslie Stevens) speak to her taste and versatility.

The most remarkable track on this gorgeous album is a spookily beautiful performance of Meat Puppets' "Plateau," from the now-legendary album Meat Puppets II. Its presence here is a nod to Grace's Arizona roots, but her nimble singing also finds the pliant jazz heart in this 30-year-old psychedelic-country-punk tune.

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