KATHY MATTEA PRETTY BIRD

One of the finest individual voices country music has thrown up, returns after surgery and being subjected to significant retraining over the years. The material found on Pretty Bird — including a sultry take on Bobbie Gentry’s ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ and Mary Gauthier’s soul-wrenching ‘Mercy Now’ which seems so perfectly apt — continues Mattea’s quest for songs that have “a very specific reason for being here, showing me some new point of view about singing along the way.” The multi Grammy winner only came by those new points of view after a series of withering setbacks on this, her first album in six years. Pretty Bird, closes with Mattea’s spine-chilling a cappella rendition of the Hazel Dickens-penned title track, and melds the singer’s Appalachian roots with impeccable song sense, and features tunes from Dougie MacLean and Vezner, as well as the Wood Brothers’ Oliver Wood and the late Jesse Winchester. The voice is her rich alto with an age-lent gravitas in the low range and it is easy, effortless, languid and sexy all at the same time.