Personnel: Kevin Welch (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar); Dustin Welch (banjo, background vocals); Brian Standefer (cello); Bukka Allen (piano, harmonium, Hammond b-3 organ, Wurlitzer organ); Rick Richards (drums).
Recording information: Cedar Creek, Austin, TX.
Photographers: Mathew Sturtevant; Todd V. Wolfson.
Kevin Welch made his name as a progressive country artist in the `90s, gradually evolving beyond the alt-country pigeonhole over the years, both on his own and as a member of Americana trio Kane Welch Kaplin. On his sixth solo album -- and his first since he started working with the aforementioned threesome -- you'd be hard-pressed to find traces of Welch's country background. You'll also encounter nary an uptempo tune -- A Patch of Blue Sky is pretty much a ballad album from start to finish. One might cavil about the lack of dynamics, but over the course of these ten tracks, it seems obvious that establishing a singular mood was more important to Welch than keeping fidgety listeners fixated. This approach is right in line with Welch's songwriting style itself. All the tunes here employ the kind of precision-tooled craftsmanship you'll find on, say, a Guy Clark album, where incisive observations abound but fancy lyrical footwork is abjured. You feel every moment of "Andaman Sea"'s emotional journey as if it was a part of your own personal experience, and when Welch adopts the Socratic method to get to the center of philosophical truths about life and love on "Answer Me That," he gets right to the heart of the matter, where a less mature songwriter might have overreached. Much of the album features sparse arrangements, focuses on Welch's own acoustic guitar patterns, and when the mournful "New Widow's Dream" comes rolling out amid a particularly spare setting, Welch's dusty voice is given plenty of room to communicate the subtleties of the song. "These days are filled with beauty and sadness" sings Welch on the achingly bittersweet "That's How It Feels," and that indeed feels like the overriding sentiment of A Patch of Blue Sky. ~ J. Allen