Kitty Donohoe has been making songs in Michigan for decades now, and the state's a better place for it. She's a folk-style road warrior princess, crisscrossing both peninsulas, playing for big fat festivals and for tiny popcorn-munching groups gathered in living rooms. Her experience, her wisdom, her innate musicality, and a certain indefinable, warm weariness coalesce when she walks onto any stage and picks up her guitar. Weary or no, Donohoe's no cynic. Her songs — love songs, admonitions, paeans to the beauty and history of Michigan — are heartfelt, direct, and honest, delivered in a supple, textured voice that easily travels her complex melodies.
I've seen her live several times and am continually struck by Donohoe's confidence as a performer. She's a masterful player who easily trades her guitar for a bouzouki when the song calls for it. She pulls song after song out of her depths and sings each as if it were both her first and last time. If she ever got stage fright, well, she stopped that nonsense a long time ago.
Her 2001 CD This Road Tonight, coproduced with David Mosher, is a good introduction to Donohoe's recorded work. It kicks off with two songs about travel. The title track reveals her own meandering thoughts as she drives through darkening farms and fields to get to her next gig. She plans her songs; she watches a storm. In "Jack of All Trades," Donohoe remembers a cross-country train trip and the quick, intense friendships that form as the land rolls past and disintegrate at the final station stop. The record is peppered with traditional Irish tunes beautifully realized with guest appearances by some of Michigan's finest musicians. "Murder of Crows" starts off with about thirty seconds of actual crow cawing — it momentarily alarmed my dog — and moves into slow and fast instrumental sections featuring fiddle, pennywhistle, mandolin, percussion, and a couple of guys doing Tuvan-style throat singing. It's a great track, as is "Howling at the Moon" — about that primal urge that slumbers in many of us, dogs, nuns, and fishermen alike, until wakened by a massive Michigan lake and a blood-red lunar body.
Kitty Donohoe performs at the Ark on Thursday, December 14.
[Review published December 2006]