There’s more than a little swagger in the opening bars that precede the first few verses Barbara Jo Kammer will sing in her new album Big Blue Sky in the Morning; her confidence bleeds into the harmonies of “Come from the Heart” as though she had written the song herself. Much like the recovery-themed “Free Again” and “Shine On,” Kammer is sounding very sure of herself with the material she’s selected to record in this latest trip to the recording studio, and although Big Blue Sky in the Morning contains only one track written by the star herself (the title cut), it doesn’t have the look or feel of a traditional cover album. This record is like a journey across the countryside, from the bluegrass of Kentucky to the burnt fiddle melodies of a simple Rocky Mountain folk.
“Revival” is the first of two collaborations in the tracklist here, featuring Kammer’s mentor in Darrell Scott in this introspective song. Scott’s contribution is beautiful, but beside some of the upbeat swing in “You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley,” the former track feels a little less fluid. “Springfield Mountain Coal Miner” definitely sways the hardest emotionally of the midsection songs in Big Blue Sky in the Morning, and along with “Cattle Call,” brings another layer of familiar country faceting into the melting pot of melodies this LP has to offer. There’s no shortage of diversity, and even if you’re not a hardcore fan of bluegrass, folk, country or Americana music in general, you don’t really need to be in order to find something sweet to cling to in this music.
“Cheap Whiskey” continues the sobriety/recovery juxtaposition started early on in Big Blue Sky in the Morning before turning us on to “Sister’s Coming Home,” the rhythm-rocker of the album’s second half. Greg Blake stops by for a duet in “A Perfect World” that undeniably makes me want to hear Kammer play with other artists as creative as she is more in the future. She can do amazing work on her own, and when she’s with someone like Blake or Darrell Scott, we get to hear an especially vulnerable side of her singing profile that debatably sounds even more seductive than some of the bigger chart-toppers out of Nashville have in 2020.
Barbara Jo Kammer gives us a shot of adrenaline in “That’ll Be the Day” only to cut her most moving track so far in the album-closing “Carnival,” which could be one of the best folk covers you’re going to hear all year long. Big Blue Sky in the Morning comes to a conclusion sounding like a full-scale theatre piece designed in tribute to an Americana some have said doesn’t really exist anymore, but when all is said and done, I have to say its tracklist makes me believe in the ongoing longevity of the aesthetic as it stands present day. I’m just now getting to know Kammer through her music, but this Coloradan is an artist I’ll be keeping on my radar for the foreseeable future without a doubt.