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Monday, August 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

Prairie inspires music, art for albums

CDs’ music, covers result of creative collaboration

Kevin Brown paints pictures with music. The Chattaroy musician sings of tall grass moving like water and golden fields shining in the sun.

Colbert artist Katherine Nelson creates landscapes with charcoal. Her work often depicts the endless rolling hills of the Palouse and the shaded striations of just-plowed farmland.

When Brown was ready to cut his first CD, “The County Primaries” in 2010, he knew he wanted Nelson to do the cover art.

“It was natural,” said Brown, who already had one of Nelson’s landscapes hanging in his living room. “We clicked right away.”

His second CD, “The Beloved Country,” came out in June, and once again Nelson’s art adorns the cover.

The pair met 10 years ago at Colbert Presbyterian Church. “We’ve watched each other’s kids grow,” Nelson said.

She moved to Colbert when her husband took a job in the area. The lifelong artist fell in love with the local landscape. “I saw the Palouse and said, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ ” she said. “I’ve always sought out evocative landscapes.”

Nelson also became enamored with the Peone Prairie. “It’s winding, rhythmic and moving. It’s like a sanctuary and that’s what’s in our backyard – beautiful.”

For nine years Nelson has exhibited at the Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d’Alene, but recently she’s broadened her reach. She’s working on a collaborative sculpture project in California and will soon be showing in Asia.

Brown, a software engineer, attended Whitworth University, where he met his wife. After graduation, he lived and worked in Bellevue until a job opportunity in 1997 brought him back to Spokane. “My grandparents farmed out in Clayton,” he said.

He bought 10 acres near Chattaroy and built a timber-framed house. “It was like coming home.”

And so was playing music.

“I’ve always been wired for music,” Brown said. “I rented a mandolin on a whim 20 years ago and began playing. When I moved here, I joined my first band.”

Brown hosts the popular radio program “Front Porch Bluegrass,” heard weekly on Spokane Public Radio, and still plays with that band, Big Red Barn. But several years ago he began writing and composing his own material. “The band recorded one of my songs, but I didn’t have the guts to sing it.”

The songs kept flowing, and soon he had enough material and courage to record his first CD. Brown describes his music as “alternative country or Americana.”

“The title song on ‘County Primaries’ is kind of a poem,” he said. “I gave myself an exercise to write a song using red, blue and yellow verses – primary colors.”

However, his concept of the CD cover proved problematic for Nelson. Brown had pictured blue skies framing a yellow school bus traveling down a winding road with a red barn in the distance.

But Nelson, a charcoal artist, said, “I’m pretty much a black and white artist. I gave up color years ago.”

The resulting compromise pleased them both. “It’s Bruce Road ramped up and exaggerated,” Nelson said. “I love high contrast.” The school bus disappeared under her eraser, but the blue skies and red barn remained.

As Brown wrote the songs for his second CD, he said, “I knew I wanted a stark, black and white look. This is a midlife project for me. It’s about wondering what I’m going to be when I grow up and I’m 47-years-old.”

The cover art is a piece Nelson created for a show at the Chase Gallery in Spokane City Hall. It depicts a fence line stretching across rolling hills with a lone bird perched on a post.

Brown said it fits perfectly with his latest collection of songs. “There’s both light and dark here,” he said. “It’s a very emotional landscape.”

“The Beloved Country” was No. 13 for the month of July on the FOLKDJ list.

Nelson and Brown feel their collaboration complements their chosen artistic media. “There’s a visual component in music,” Brown said.

Nelson agreed. “A lot of what happens is within the spaces in lyrics. It’s the same with artwork – the space in between the lines has to speak.”

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