september 2011

Candye Kane: Forging ahead, into the light

Undaunted. Resilient. Embracing Life.

Candye Kane comes out whole on Sister Vagabond

By David McGee

Candye Kane
Delta Groove

Candye Kane has had one of those “you don’t wanna know” kind of lives--a lot of hardship, some bad choices made in her youth, struggles of all kinds, a wealth of professional and personal ups and downs, by far the most daunting being the pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest of all malignancies, she was diagnosed with three years ago. After starting out in L.A.’s early ‘80s punk/cowpunk scene, she faced the challenge of being taken seriously as a musical artist, but quickly made converts among fans and critics alike as she found her voice as a blues belter. When things fell together on the musical front, she had the personal charisma and the voluptuous figure to assume her rightful place as a true character in the contemporary blues scene. She’s hardly all style and no substance, though: as much as her struggle comes through in her colorful voice and cocksure attitude, she has taken pains to give something back during her time on this mortal coil, notably through her United by Music charity, which, as its website notes, “supports talented people with intellectual and physical disabilities and gives them the chance to perform blues and swing music onstage with a live band for the general public.” The site goes on to point out that blues music is the chosen genre “because of its history in helping enslaved peoples (African Americans) to overcome oppression.”

Candye Kane with Laura Chavez on guitar performs ‘Everybody Needs Love’ at the Daytona Blues Festival, October 9, 2010

Given all the hurdles she’s jumped and her good works offstage, it’s especially pleasing to report that Sister Vagabond, her 11th CD, a followup to 2010’s stellar Superhero album, is simply her best yet, and at that one of the top big band blues albums of the year. She’s got her co-producer and co-writer Laura Chavez playing guitar in a way that underscores her coziness with blues and R&B styles from T-Bone Walker to Robert Cray; a solid rhythm section; a robust horn section to enhance the variety of moods Ms. Kane conjures in her songs; and organ, piano, accordion and harmonica to add further sonic richness.

Laura Chavez (photo: Marco Hermans)

Ms. Kane wastes no time investing her songs with what sounds like unvarnished personal testimony. After opening with a spiky treatment of Johnny Guitar Watson’s “I Love To Love You,” an unambiguous stomper unabashedly celebrating the physical intensity of romance, underscored by Chavez’s thick-toned Watson-like stabs of stinging electric guitar, which co-star with Kane’s swaggering vocal, the first Kane-Chavez original, “Love Insurance” (inspired in part, according to Kane’s album notes, by a conversation about the health insurance she does not have), comes around with a sweet, swinging horn section out of a Willie Tee arrangement, a trebly guitar discourse courtesy Chavez, and an easygoing vocal by Kane in which she casually employs insurance industry jargon to describe her lovelorn plight (“I’m givin’ full disclosure, I’ve been hurt before/the Act of God clause don’t protect me no more/I pay the highest premium for what I’m lookin’ for…”) but also sneaks in a line that sounds like it cuts close to the bone of her experience in “I admit I been reckless/a full collision course with love.”  As humorous as the song is, when she sings that lyric with a slight dip in her voice, it gives the performance a little darker hue. She’s even less subtle in doom-laden milieu of “Walkin’, Talkin’ Haunted House,” introduced by Chavez’s measured guitar howls before Kane enters declaring morosely, “I’m an old and empty house/with all these ghosts inside/stickin’ to my soul like thorns upon a vine…” before going to describe the paralyzing memories extracting their toll in the wake of a failed romance (“feel like I’m living a nightmare…I’ll never get over losing you…”). You don’t have to have lived through what she’s singing about to feel the utter devastation she unburdens herself of in a positively wrenching vocal that’s shadowed throughout by Chavez’s seething guitar, her tortured soloing as artfully articulated as it is chilling. Things don’t really lighten up much along the way, and you’re figuring things are looking up when you’re nearing the end and a song titled “Have a Nice Day” kicks off with a rollicking New Orleans second-line rhythm and Kane’s bright, upbeat vocal. But as it was in “Love Insurance,” when the lingua franca of the insurance business became metaphor for romantic upheaval, so does the pro forma sloganeering of, say, customer relations turn into a lover’s parting sentiment.

Candye Kane with Laura Chavez (on guitar), ‘Lucky To Be Loved by You,’ live at the Little Fox in Redwood City, CA

On the other hand, there is a terrific, swampy, Creedence-like take on “Sweet Nothin’s,” Brenda Lee’s sultry 1959 hit pop (#4) and R&B (#12) single, fueled by Chavez’s roiling, brittle guitar circling all around the melody and a vocal from Kane that is very much the suggestive, grown-up version of the then-15-year-old Little Miss Dynamite’s preternaturally knowing blues growl--less startling, owing to Kane’s maturity, but also more seductive. Another upbeat note is sounded in the acoustic-based “Down With the Blues.” Written by Steve White, a San Diego-based musician friend of Kane’s who died of throat cancer before the song was recorded, the laid-back romantic ballad, featuring a slide solo by Chavez constructed with sensitivity to the song’s sentiments and an exalted mellifluousness, extols the positive impact an empathetic partner can have in raising a troubled soul’s spirits. Kane’s torchy delivery does the rest. Signing off with flair and a bit of hill country ambience in the shambling “I Deserve Love,” Kane shouts out an exuberant mission statement, unambiguous and fervent, her voice animated with a breezy lilt, as Billy Watson backs her up with honking harmonica. Much like the artist’s own life, Sister Vagabond has its share of hard times, but forges ahead into the light, undaunted, resilient, embracing life. Now cancer-free, Candye Kane, with a big assist from Laura Chavez, has never been better.

Candye Kane’s Sister Vagabond is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024