Kate McDonnell mounted a couple of attempts at performing with partners before embarking on a solo career in 1993. She teamed first with her twin during their college and high school years in their birthplace of Baltimore, MD, and the twins billed themselves as Katie and Anne McDonnell. Before moving on to work in a duo called McDonnell-Tane in 1989, she took a four-year sabbatical from performing, settled down in New Haven, CT, and worked at other types of jobs, including editing, hawking ice cream from a truck, selling encyclopedias, and administrative work at a social service agency. While with the New England-based McDonnell-Tane, she opened for a list of stars that included Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins, Kathy Mattea, Leo Kottke, and Suzanne Vega. The duo put out a pair of albums, Volcanic Rendezvous and a self-titled recording. McDonnell also was part of a trio called Colossal Olive while in New Haven. The sometimes-a cappella group of females were known for injecting humor into their performances, and included Alison Farrell and Cara Burgarella. McDonnell self-produced Broken Bones, her independent debut, and the album hit the market in 1994. She started making a splash and readers of the New Haven Advocate voted the fledgling solo artist the city's top singer/songwriter that same year. She was named the Kerrville Folk Festival's New Folk Winner the following year, when she settled in the Northwest region of the U.S. She also was a showcase finalist in the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Waterbug Records re-released the 12-track Broken Bones in 1996.