In the spring, singer-songwriter Jennifer Kimball will release her first new solo album in ten years, titled Avocet. Kimball first made her mark in the ’90s in the folk-pop duo the Story, with Jonatha Brooke, and has an ear for soaring melodies and adventurous harmonies. On Avocet, she found an ideal collaborator/producer in multi-instrumentalist Alec Spiegelman from Cuddle Magic.

Below she shares the story behind one of her new songs, “Reedy River.” Avocet will be released March 2 and currently can be pre-ordered from PledgeMusic.

The story

I wrote “Reedy River” in the spring of 2006 while on tour for Oh Hear Us. It was my first trip away from my two-year-old son. And I missed him so much it hurt.

It was Easter weekend, and wicked chilly here in Somerville, Massachusetts. But when I got off the plane in Atlanta it was 80 degrees and on the way up into the 90s. A full-on heat wave. With the a/c on high, I drove to Greenville, South Carolina, for my first gig and took a walk downtown before soundcheck. Everywhere people were stripping down, rolling up pants, taking off socks and ditching coats, sweaters—any and all layers. And then right in the middle of town I discovered this spectacular suspension bridge: a Santiago Calatrava kind of creation called the Liberty Bridge. Suspended at an impossible angle, it seemed to float over the Reedy River’s waterfalls. A couple dozen yards downriver where the Reedy ran smooth was a green landing pad—a lawn, beautiful plantings and paths with steps leading from the bridge. Humans were strewn about the lawn and the rocks by the water’s edge basking in the cooler air coming off the river.

Some people were wading, or just standing in the river with their feet cooling. I watched a woman trail her baby’s feet in the water—back and forth and back and forth. And felt the choke rise in my throat—both for the pure sight of it and for missing my son.

The words for “Reedy River” kind of tumbled out. The beginning is a fairly straightforward telling of what I saw that afternoon. I let the verses take the song further into an imagined life, as if moving along the course of the river. As is usual for me, lyrics and music happened at different moments; lyrics first. Musically, it felt like the chords and the melody should be simple. I remember thinking that this song should be easy to play, easy to sing, easy for harmony singing (partly a conscious departure from some of my previous songs, partly simply because the scene demanded it). But it’s funny how “easy” means different things to all of us. Major and minor seconds don’t seem strange to my ear. In fact, they feel right—more right than singing thirds sometimes. But when people sing along to “Reedy River” they are inevitably drawn to the high third on the chorus. I always want to hear it with the major second on “Ree-” of “Reedy.” That feels easy to me.

I’m so fond of Alec Spiegelman’s arrangement. And his saxophone round at the beginning of the tune allows the vocal melody to kind of float in out of nowhere. Almost as if his lines were the bridge I stood on when I first saw the river. “Reedy” is the first song we recorded at the surprise birthday recording session that kicked off this album. It was the first time I’d been in the studio with Alec, who ended up producing the whole project. It’s the oldest song in the batch and the lead-off track on my new record, Avocet. I don’t think I will ever get tired of this one.

—Jennifer Kimball

The lyrics

I wished I were a little baby
Hanging on my momma’s arm
She’d swing me back, she’d swing me forth
Trailing my feet in the cold water

The sun came scorching down in April
Heat like to make your daddy swoon
We threw our shoes along the steep bank
And jumped from winter into June

By the Reedy
By the Reedy
By the Reedy River

And this is where that river’s headed
The bridge will float over the falls
They don’t rush they way they once did
And neither do we toward each other

By the Reedy
By the Reedy
By the Reedy River

I wished I were a little baby
Hanging on my momma’s arm
She’d swing me back, she’d swing me forth
Trailing my feet in the cold water

By the Reedy
By the Reedy
By the Reedy River

More

Behind the song

The Complete Singer-Songwriter