One Track Mind: Katie Costello, “Ashes Ashes” (2011)

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There are these moments, throughout the fiery emotional aftermath of “Ashes Ashes,” where Katie Costello gives herself over to the lyric, and the sound is like a hot wind rushing past and out into the world.

Her voice, a scary crepuscule thunderclap at its bottom, just takes flight – hitting almost impossible notes. That lays bare her facility with a lyric, the way she uses language to make words into sounds and pictures and shapes that they normally can’t be. She rescues some from the forgotten corners of empty bookstores, bends others that we’ve heard too many times from passersby, welds the rest into newly recognized forms. At the same time, her economy is impressive. Costello isn’t writerly in that way; she’s no show off.

“Trees are shrinking and your heart is sinking, yet you’ve never felt more” – right here is where she hits a different gear, moving into a new emotional place – “alive.” The word itself lasts several beats, like a cry for help, or a final admonishment. “The smoke is all consuming,” Costello continues. “Orange and red light up the sky. Footprints pick up dust mites; you might not always feel right. Yet you know you’re” – again, the next gear – “alive.”

When Costello lets go, amidst a swirling vocal accompaniment, the song does, too – pushed upward like fluttering piece of ember against a black night.

There’ll be new light wherever it lands. Costello, too.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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