Honky Tonk Happy Hour: Sharing Music
I am drawn towards two things–vocalists and steel guitar players. I keep my ears out for both. But especially the former. Contemporary country music has drowned out the latter. But that’s another column.
So, when someone said that Holly Williams is their new favorite female vocalist, I thought I’d check her out.
You should know that I hate artist websites that automatically play their music. I know it seems logical for an artist website to do that, but when you forget to mute your sound and you’re at work, it’s frustrating to have to click the sound off really fast before you get caught. But when I visited Williams’ site, instead of music I heard her voice talking about the songs on Here With Me. She gives a brief description of the story behind the song, and then the song starts.
But before the song starts, I’m reading her bio. Another Hank Williams progeny. I wonder what this is going to be.
And then I hear her voice. And I’m blown away. But not in a country way. Her music is this mixture of Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow. Her voice is cigarettes and coffee and roadhouse bars with a touch of whiskey. I love it.
I also love that Holly described the stories behind the songs and plays the songs from her whole album. Someone is focused on an album! I miss the album. I miss looking at the cover, removing the shrink wrap and wondering what songs my favorite artist has come up with. Instead, we’re promoting singles–and downloadable singles at that. A single is a teaser. And if I fall in love with the single, it’s even worse. Where’s the rest of the album? I want to hear more!
But what amazed me was that I listened to the stories and the enitre album. Truly, I was mesmerized. This is a feat for me. No one stops me in my tracks anymore. No one blows me away. Carrie Underwood has a beautiful voice, but there’s no grit. There’s no bite. There’s nothing that I can sink my teeth into. Beauty without soul is a Barbie Doll. I played with Barbies when I was a little girl, always frustrated that they weren’t alive. Their eyes were frozen and vacant. Nowadays you can get talking dolls. But they can’t respond or feel.
Isn’t that what we’re looking for? Isn’t that the point of music? To make us feel? There are some beautiful sounds coming out of Nashville. Perfect notes, perfectly in tune. Perfect harmonies. Perfect instrumental parts. But where’s the soul? Where’s the emotion? I don’t care if there’s a “wobble” in someone’s voice. I don’t care if the notes are perfect. I’ll trade it any day for soul.
And while the production of Here With Me is that Nashville sound, Holly has soul. And some good songs. Overall the album is mellow but I really loved “Keep the Change.” What a great hook! This song was not written by Holly, but by Hilary Lindsey and Luke Laird. I love good hooks. This is the heart of country to me…except this song is not country. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s great, nonetheless. “I’m all cashed out on your lovin’/I’ve paid my dues, honey you can keep the change.” In decades of songwriters coming up with hooks, I can’t believe someone’s just come up with this.
So Holly Williams is now one of my new favorite female vocalists. She’s not country, but I like her.
In the spirit of sharing back, I’ll share with you one of my favorite country female vocalists. Her name is Brennen Leigh. I met her about three years ago at the Continental Club in Houston. She came up to one of my shows with a gal named Sunny Sweeney. I loved Brennen’s voice, but what hit me was my conversation with her after the show. Here was this 20-something gal that not only knew who Melba Montgomery was, she knew more about Melba’s recordings than I did. We hit it off immediately.
Since that time, Brennen has released a duet album called Holdin’ Our Own and Other Country Gold Duets with Jesse Dayton. An album of mostly originals written by Brennen and Jesse. It’s all grit and spirit and fire.
But what you want to hear is Brennen’s upcoming album. I know that maybe I shouldn’t write about something that’s not released yet that doesn’t even have a release date. Maybe I’m teasing you. Maybe she’s teasing you because you can listen to 2 clips from the new CD on her MySpace. Check out “What’ll I Do” (written by Billy Dee Donahue) and “The Box” (written by Brennen–note the harmonies by Jim Lauderdale).
Produced by Tommy Detamore (who also recorded Sunny Sweeney’s Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame), the sound is clear and crisp. And the songs? Brennen writes this mixture of bluegrass and country and old time mountain music with thoughtful insight. And her voice is a breath of fresh air. She’s country. And maybe that’s why the CD isn’t released yet. Brennen exists in the world of the independent musician. Still classified as a new artist, they hope to find a label with the belief of having their music promoted. But they don’t understand that labels aren’t spending much money on promotions. Labels are barely holding on, wanting to sign artists that will sell. And anything close to hardcore country doesn’t sell.
Brennen will eventually release her music. I, for one, will tell everyone about it–just like you told me about Holly. That is music promotions without the BS. No request from a band you don’t know to become their fan on Facebook. No request from a publicist for you to become a friend of their band on MySpace and then posting a comment about their album on your Comment section. No review from some music “critic” that you don’t know from Adam. Word of mouth from people you know is about the only thing that truly matters now.
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