The Return of Big Red

Brigid Kaelin
West 28th Street.

By Tim Roberts

At one time Louisville was home to four big breweries: Phoenix Hill, Fehr's, Oretel's 92 and Falls City, all now long gone. They weren't national brands, to be sure, not the equivalent of Anheiser-Busch or Miller, but the latter three still had a strong southern regional presence.

So why is this nugget of trivia relevant to a review of a local artist's latest CD? Because the title and its corresponding track make a vague reference to the empty building where one of those breweries once operated. It's West 28th Street from Brigid Kaelin, the full-length follow-up to 2005's Keep Your Secrets. And like its predecessor, it's full of great songwriting, lovely vocals and as always, an appearance by Big Red, the name she gave to her accordion.

But to understand the significance of the title, you'll have to take a small journey through nine other songs, that range from the bawdy ("You Make Me Want to Go to Church" and "Hold Me Like That Old Guitar"), to tear-jerker country ("Betty Jean" and "One More Last Kiss," featuring Shannon Lawson on harmonies), to jazzy and laid-back ("I Did Something Bad" and "Watch Out'), where Kaelin glides through her vocals like a saucy cabaret chanteuse. Sally Bowles, eat your heart out.

Kaelin claims that her songs are inspired partly by vaudeville; the only difference is that she doesn't have a guy telling dirty jokes between each song. Also, a vaudeville show would normally finish off with a dramatic showstopper. For this recording, Kaelin finishes with the title cut, a song about ennui that sets in easily, where dreams are unable to materialize because of indecision.

The song (helped along by a sad background cello performed by Peter Searcy) speaks of a decision to visit either the empty building on 28th Street where a famous local beer was brewed, or Paris. Either are just really spots on a map, reduced to such insignificance that one would be just as good as the other. That kind of ennui makes the world smaller. And keeps us in the traps we make for ourselves.

So don't be surprised if you start applauding at the end of West 28th Street. It just means that Brigid Kaelin has done her job. And once again, she and Big Red have done it well.

Find out more about Big Red and its owner at www.brigidkaelin.com.