In The Spirit: Word and Song

KALA proudly presents two independent Northwest women artists on Friday, January 27. Author Tricia Gates Brown and Singer-Songwriter Deb Montgomery.

Both women have recently produced new works, respectively, “Jesus Loves Women: A Memoir of Body and Spirit and a CD release “The Little Hymn Project.” Both women were raised in traditional fundamentalist Christian families, and both women have experienced and welcomed into their lives, the challenge of coming to grips with a spiritual identity, identity as woman, and personal transcendence through artistic medium, amidst the constricts of all that traditional western patriarchal Christianity has dictated to American women.   Neither artists have met (as of yet) but the North Coast has had the opportunity to know both of these women in recent times. Gates Brown a columnist for the coastal weeklies and  Hipfish, several illustrated children’s’ books, as a landscape gardener and doing recent rounds with her new book. Seattle-based Montgomery, has performed on the coast on several occasion, predominantly at LUSH Wine Bar in Cannon Beach.

It is a pleasure to bring a “woman focus” show together at KALA. (Men welcome, of course.) When I first returned to the region in the mid-nineties, I had the opportunity to host a “Women’s Nite” at the former Café Uniontown. What inspired me to do so was the awareness of such a strong woman presence on the coast; whether married, single, lesbian, bi, trans, straight, native or transplant. The coast of Oregon and Washington beckons fearless, creative women to its shore. The nights included a myriad of women musicians, poets, comedians and a drink menu with such titles as “Feminist Twist,” “Union Town Bitch,” and the like. And lets face it – whether you were/are a feminist, the Feminist Movement of late 60’s laid the groundwork, for what we now as women find in our everyday lives,  the means to face the challenges, the inalienable right to our intelligence, our natural trait to balance, and to choose who we want to be. A task neither easy, nor simple, but the path of self-empowerment lies ever stronger under our feet.  When women testify through art, the stories are strong and inspirational, such as Deb Montgomery and Tricia Gates Brown  . . . and I sing “Hallelujah Sisters!”

“Jesus Loves Women,” is a compelling title. TRICIA GATES BROWN, holds a PHD in Theology and in her 20’s found such a fascination with the bible, that it led her to investigate the nature of the scriptures and to eventually get to the source of “what” religion had bestowed upon her culturally as a woman. In her preface she states, “What I am drawn to . . . is the complex interplay of body and spirit, of the sensual and the spiritual, the sexual and the spiritual . . . . I choose to tell my story not only because I believe it is the truest accounting I can offer of my life, but because I believe it’s important we hear such stories. In my experience, they are hard to come by.”

Gates Brown commits a good portion of her memoir to the tribulations of puberty, to young womanhood, revealing those parts of self, the tender heart, the coming into sexuality, memories we are glad to leave behind but yet are so much a part of our whole. A back cover blurb from Susan Mark Landis, Minister of Peace and Justice says it well; “Like a late night talk with my best friend, Tricia’s book gave me intimate insights into her life, my life . . . by openly sharing secrets we typically hide.”

From the constricts of fundamentalism, to losing her self in a first marriage, an awakening to the grace of nature, a mystical friendship with a Trappist monk, a failed second marriage, a new communion with Mexican culture, and coming to a yearned place of wholeness, Gates Brown beautifully articulates in intimate detail her story; as an accomplished writer, story teller and human theorist. Her ultimate message, that the shame-bound morality on sexuality be set free, for humanity to progress to a more humane state. Whether raised in a Christian milieu or not, this book is for every woman and man, as the basic core of our culture resides within the bounds this morality.

DEB MONTGOMERY refers to herself as a vagabond, in the poetic sense of the word, not settling in any one thing or place comfortably. This she stated in email correspondence when inquiring on the “Little Hymn Project” and any personal religious background.  She then furthered, in very songwriterly response,  to grappling with a fundamental upbringing,  “At the same time, I’ve been captivated by my understanding of Jesus’ message to love one another, to love another as ourselves… the idea that love is costly, that it will perhaps ask you to go places you never imagined, that it will both break you and heal you at the same time.”

The basis for the Little Hymn Project was created in a time when Montgomery was dealing with a period of deep grief. In that process she had turned to several hymns that she had in her repertoire, “The only thing I did for a few weeks besides weep, call a friend or two, was visit some of these hymns, letting their mysteries penetrate and attempting to sing them back to the universe to sooth myself,” says Montgomery. In this space of grieving, a natural progression led to several original tunes, a series of hymns, (Psalm23, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, It is well with my Soul, Amazing Grace . . .) and cover tunes by Bruce Coburn and Coldplay. Originally recorded in her living room in Seattle, she eventually recorded the 11-track collection in Chicago, with Producer John Abbey at Kingsize Studio. But her desire was to keep the intimacy and a sense of presence that were so much a part of the process of coming to make the Little Hymn Project. The final product is Montgomery on piano and guitar, with added bass and drums. Her recording succeeds in a triumphant presence of voice, a powerful, and moving intimacy.

Montgomrey is a Canadian who lived in New York City many years, and now lives in Seattle, where she is completing a graduate degree.  Solo is not her main thing as she has mostly been a bandleader, playing with drummer Andy Stochansky (who was Ani Defranco’s tour drummer for 8 years), and drummer Sim Cain, shared band mate with Henry Rollins (the Rollins Band). Them’s good rock bones. She also played with a New York cellist and fellow Canadian artist Julia Kent for 8 years. As Montgomery’s credits reference comparison to PJ Harvey, Jeff Buckley, the core connection she has in her voice resembles to this writer, the spirit of Patti Smith. An era before emo, somewhere between punk rock and Janis! There’s a strong conviction to rock music in Montgomery. While she isn’t well known in these parts, she is certainly a cool find.

Friday, Jan 27, doors open 7pm. $10, includes complimentary wine and snacks. KALA, 1017 Marine Drive in Astoria.