Local singer Kelly Hogan always seems to come at me from left field. Beneath the Country Underdog (2000), her Bloodshot Records debut, put me off with its high-gloss finish (courtesy of producer Jon Langford), but after a while I was mesmerized by Hogan's brilliantly intuitive readings of other people's songs. Because It Feel Good (Bloodshot), produced by Hogan and former Sugar bassist David Barbe, is rougher around the edges, but this time I was stymied by the bizarre reverb that drenched Hogan's voice. Many of the vocals were cut in an unused boys' locker room in a Rutledge, Georgia, elementary school, and at times Hogan sounds like she's lost in Mammoth Cave. But I learned to live with this too, and in fact it works beautifully on the opening song, the Statler Brothers' faux-gospel "I'll Go to My Grave Loving You," which Hogan transforms from a hokey pledge of eternal love into a murky, funereal, wonderfully obsessive suicide note. The new album elaborates on the Bobbie Gentry/Dusty Springfield country-soul of Underdog: Hogan's desperation gradually escalates on King Floyd's "Please Don't Leave Me Lonely," and the sashaying R & B number "In Time" (originally recorded by Ketty Lester) is nicely upended by Jon Rauhouse's woozy pedal steel. The earlier album cast new light on an indie-rock gem, the Magnetic Fields' "Papa Was a Rodeo"; this time Hogan adds some emotional complexity to the pure pathos of Smog's brutal "Strayed." She and guitarist Andy Hopkins contribute two sturdy originals--the poodle-skirt soul of "No, Bobby Don't" and the darkly funny "Sugarbowl"--yet Hogan is principally an interpreter, capable of wringing more from a cover than most people can find in their own material. She'll open for Andrew Bird at FitzGerald's on Friday and participate in a tribute to the Staples Singers at the same club on Wednesday; her own show at Schubas will feature Hopkins, Bird, drummer Kevin O'Donnell, singer Nora O'Connor, and bassist Mike Sturgess. Chris Lee opens (see Spot Check). Friday, February 15, 10 PM, and Wednesday, February 20, 8 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118. Thursday, February 21, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Warner.