KATIE WHITEHOUSE – Drawing Lines (Want To Know WTK007)

Drawing LInesBased in Devon, running an award-winning music management, artist development, booking and promotion agency whose roster includes Reg Meuross, Charlie Dore and Harbottle & Jonas, although she’s written poems, songs and sung harmonies on others’ albums, until now Katie’s never stepped into her own spotlight. However, having just turned 6o, she’s finally taken the plunge and, produced by Dan (no relation) Whitehouse, another of her clients, who also sings backing, Drawing Lines, this being her debut album.

Featuring Gustaf Ljunggren on pedal steel, Sidse Holte on backing vocals and John Elliot on occasional bass and vocals, it’s a laid back, softly sung low key affair, the arrangements frequently driven by her piano, as on the opening track ‘Spaces’, written 12 years ago for her daughter, a pledge of support in troubled times of mental turmoil (“your demons don’t scare me/I see they tear your head apart…Follow the colours of your rainbow/I’ll always be right beside you”). Ljunggren on guitars and with a staccato vocal delivery to match the percussive rhythm of the lyrics, ‘Seventeen’, about a different teenager, picks the pace up in its encouragement to rise above teenage anxiety (“Walk the talk/You’re way way further than you thought don’t stop it… Know your mind/You can fly through the air use your wings never fake it…Milk the time/Cos the whole world’s your playground – and you’re gonna make it”).

The pastoral fingerpicked title track with its synth brass is more introspective in its musing on setting boundaries and adjusting them to fit (“Never been too good at drawing lines/Now I seem to need them all the time…See the lines I ploughed into your face/Thought the signs were buried without trace/There’s a line we should have drawn back then/No point crying, can’t go there again/Keep on moving maybe things will work out fine”). Then, suggesting perhaps elements of Grieg or Holst in the elegiac melody, ‘Earthman’ is a four elements referencing tribute to a late friend, a scientist who dowsed with a crystal for homeopathic remedies that images her tears and his crystals coming together to form a rainbow.

The most recent song, albeit written two years ago, ‘When the Wind Blows’ is a simple piano and pedal steel ballad about change (“This is time for letting new colours flow to the ends of your fingers and your toes”) and resilience (“I bow but I don’t break…Into darkness I go but light still finds its way to my bones”).

Following the same instrumentation, the pulsing ‘Let Go’ is poignant delicate and hushed poetic number that came from sitting with her grandmother as she transitioned from life to death (“Hold a candle to the night/Soft and slow let go…Lead the way into the light”), Whitehouse drawing on her former life as a massage therapist specialising in pregnancy and birth, here a midwife for the afterlife.

Both the otherworldly ‘Never To Be Told’ (“Nighttime moonshine cursed the skin/Softest velvet drenched in sin/Outer shield is thickening”) with the shimmering of synthesised bells and the intimate waltzing Spanish guitar sway of ‘Keep Her Safe’ (“She’s no longer smiling and nobody’s fool/And she runs in circles of guilt and complicity…she hides behind doors with her breath held she’s quiet/And if she doesn’t look they might leave her alone/But the shadow is on her she’s frozen in stone”) are reflections on her too early loss of innocence to the “beasts in the garden the snakes in the grass”.

Accompanied by just churchy synth drone and steel, the softly whispered, pastoral dusk ambience ‘Man Of Few Words’ addresses lack of communication and the inability to articulate feelings (“They say heard silence is golden, this feels like a dark void …It’s hard to get the message when there isn’t one”), the album ending on the more thematically upbeat ‘Welcome To The World’, Ljunggren on clarinet and tenor guitar, Elliott on bass and Dan on backing vocals, with its celebration of birth (“5am a new life dawning/My body’s tired but inside I’m singing”) and the responsibility to guide young lives through “a world of politics short sightedness and greedwhere the “more you learn the more you grieve for what we’re doing to our earth”, that feels like it could have come from a set piece in a Stephen Sondheim musical.

It took a lot of encouragement, nudging and gentle persuasion for her to finally take the plunge into making her own music, but this quietly sublime album is glowing testament to how worthwhile it all was.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.katiewhitehouse.bandcamp.com/album/drawing-lines