On the road of life

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

By Vickie Snow
Staff writer

Navigating the road in this "little game we call life," as singer, songwriter and guitarist Cathy Richardson puts it, is a matter of following your heart, learning from life's mistakes and asking for directions every once in a while.

It's also about seeing what bumps lie ahead.

Richardson, a roots rocker with a twang in her step and guts in her style, was successful in expanding her loyal Chicago fan base with her starring role in "Love, Janis," a musical based on Janis Joplin's personal letters that played in Chicago and New York.

But the Cathy Richardson Band guitarist Joel Hoekstra, bass player Klem and drummer Ed Breckenfeld lacks a hit single on the dial and a major label deal.

"It's never been a better time to be an independent artist," Richardson said. "But you got to do something to make yourself stand out."

So the next turn in her band's career, she figured, would require a detour on a dirt road.

"If I want to get a Grammy, I have to sneak in the back door," Richardson said by phone recently from her home in Elmhurst.

With two albums' worth of music recorded, Richardson set her sights on the actual artwork. She used photos she took in Hawaii and a title scribbled on the band's holiday cards to come up with a design for "The Road to Bliss" with the sole intention of getting a Grammy nod.

It worked.

The six-fold jacket for "The Road to Bliss" resembles a dashboard with an expansive Hawaiian view, the CD its steering wheel and liner notes neatly folded in a flip-down glove box. A collaboration with commercial artist Bill Dolan, the package was nominated for a Grammy for Best Recording Packaging.

While not as relished as a top album category, the Grammy nod nonetheless will "bring so much more visibility to the record, to the band, the music," she said.

The album, which includes a ballad with Indigo Girls' Emily Saliers ("Blindsided by Love"), is the follow-up to the EP "Buzzzed" and independent releases "Snake Camp," "Fools on a Tandem" and "Moon, Not Banana."

Richardson, a Burr Ridge native, will play songs from the album and debut material for the next disc during two long sets New Year's Eve at FitzGerald's in Berwyn.

The CD design also is a reflection of Richardson's passion for the days of vinyl, when album artwork was treasured. She hopes fans will want to buy her CD to see its design rather than just download it on the Internet.

The design that unfolds over and over, she said, is a metaphor for life's unexpected spots.

"The road to bliss is a never-ending journey," she said. "Life leads you down a road and it may not be exactly what you were expecting or hoping for. But if I can pull back and try to get a larger perspective, it always is for my higher good. It eventually reveals itself to be the best thing."

Belting it out in "Love, Janis" she said initially stemmed from wanting to expand her career. But then Sept. 11, 2001, changed all that. Her ego aside, she took a new path and ended up where she started. Instead of wanting to become a superstar, she just wanted to sing from the heart; to sing the songs that pushed her out of a post-high school depression and into coffeehouses, open mikes and no-name bars where people talked during her entire set.

"It led me to remember why I started singing in the first place," she said. "Not to be famous. But when I open my mouth to sing and this sound comes out, I know there's something there. It's just a feeling and that's where I really hope I'm back to and want to stay."

Cathy Richardson Band

When: Two sets, beginning at 10 p.m. Wednesday (doors open at 8 p.m.)
Where: FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt Road, Berywn
Admission: $80, including open bar, champagne, appetizers, party favors and coat check
Information: (708) 788-2118; or www.fitzgeraldsnightclub.com or www.CRBand.com.