Albums you missed: Kate Wolf – Safe at Anchor

Safe At Anchor


This is the second post in a series featuring music that remains in my iTunes playlist and in the complete original running order after a lot of years have passed. This one features the later singer-songwriter Kate Wolf.

After a lot of years of playing the singer-songwriter circuit in northern California, Kate Wolf scored her first major television appearance in 1985 with a very memorable set on the long-running PBS program Austin City Limits. Sadly, she was diagnosed with acute leukemia a few months later and died the next year at the age of 44. She began her career with an “old time string band” group called Wildwood Flower before recording her first solo album, featured here, for Kaleidoscope Records in 1979 entitled Safe at Anchor.

Many artists have since recorded performed Kate Wolf tunes, preserving her musical legacy. Nanci Griffith featured “Across the Great Divide” on her 1993 Grammy-winning Other Voices | Other Rooms album, and Emmylou Harris was nominated for a Grammy Award for her 1999 recording of “Love Still Remains.” In 2002, Guitarist Dave Alvin from the roots-rock group the Blasters recorded a solo album entitled West of the West featuring her song “Here in California,” as well as a great rendition of John Stewart’s “California Bloodlines.”

Safe at Anchor marked a maturation of Kate Wolf’s lyrics and melodies. with the album produced by mandolin player and pianist Bill Griffin, a long-time collaborator, and he brought a mellow sound that put her trademark low, smooth voice and her lyrics into the foreground. By this time, Wolf was performing as a solo artist, usually accompanied by guitarist Nina Gerber and bassist Ford James, and Gerber’s acoustic guitar work is featured on this set as well.

The album opens with the title track, “Safe at Anchor,” which evokes the image of new love in nautical language:

“Riding out the storm like a ship safe at anchor;
Waiting out the long voyage ’round the Cape of Hope we’ll take her.”

The album includes two more of her best-known romantic ballads, “Great Love of My Life” and “Sweet Love,” as well as a concert staple that featured her instrumental accompanists called “Early Morning Melody.” In its entirety, this is the kind of album to listen to late int he evening to cast an aura of gentle mellowness.

In 1983 Kate Wolf released a great album of live cuts called “Give Yourself to Love,” the title song becoming a wedding favorite and later recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary. The aforementioned 1985 Austin City Limits concert was captured in a 1988 posthumous album entitled An Evening in Austin. Here is a clip from that concert, with her performing “Eyes of a Painter” featuring Nina Gerber’s guitar work and Ford James on bass guitar. Nina Gerber has gone on to become a very respected accompanist for other singer-songwriters, and I have seen her on tour with Nanci Griffith and Karla Bonoff.

Kate’s friends and family continue to put on the Kate Wolf Music Festival every year in her memory. Here is the YouTube version of the Safe at Anchor title track:

You can see more “Albums you missed” posts by clicking on the “Diversions” tag in the left column of this site.


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