Some albums just take root on first listening and so it is with Hadley McCall Thackston’s debut offering. From the first flutterings of the opening song, Butterflies, to the closing Last Mountain Waltz the album springs, fully formed, from Miss Thackston’s imaginative mind and the excellent arrangement and production skills of Hugh Christopher Brown. A Georgia native, Thackston began writing many of these songs on her front porch and one can imagine she could have delivered a fine album of unadorned simplicity given that she is a fine writer and excellent singer (and you can see her singing in such a manner on a YouTube video here). In a serendipitous manner however a friend of her mother’s saw one such video and alerted his producer chum who invited her to make an album with him. Thus it was that David Corley introduced her to Brown and pretty soon Thackston was in Canada’s Wolfe Island recording with the musical community who seem to infest the island.
It’s no disrespect to Thackston to say that the musical accompaniment and arrangements are half the delight here. Her songs are elevated throughout whether it be glorious country embellishments or poppier retro sounds which come across as if Amy Whitehouse and her producer, Mark Ronson, had decided to ditch the horn section and replace it with banjos, fiddle and accordion. This element is most pronounced on the driving beat of Ellipsis which stomps along with a sassy strut and finger popping chorus. They repeat the trick on Somehow where Thackston really channels Whitehouse vocally over a gypsy fiddle and on the dramatic No which has Thackston’s vocals multitracked and where a horn does parp up, both songs incidentally having lyrics which one could easily imagine Whitehouse singing.
A couple of songs retain a porch like simplicity within the arrangements. The opening Butterfly is a charming breeze of a song which recalls a more innocent time when the likes of Julie Felix were popular entertainers although lyrically it’s a timely call to arms for women and girls setting out on life to set their sights high. Last Mountain Waltz is more traditional with rippling mandolin and weeping strings although again there’s a powerful undertow of being shackled by society’s expectations. Elsewhere Redbird is a meditation on the power of belief wafted aloft by sonorous strings and hazy guitars and Devil or Angel finds Thackston in a vampish mood, an Eve tempting her Adam as she sings, “I’m a devil dressed in angel’s wings, man, did I have you fooled. If I did, I’m not sorry,” as the band slope along in Weimar cabaret style.
Two songs stand out. Change is a deceptively pretty country song replete with weeping pedal steel and rippling mandolin with Thackston speaking out on the #blacklivesmatter theme as she describes watching yet another news item on an unarmed black man shot dead by police, “Each death sewn into life’s tapestry, each stitch a blemish on our history that time cannot erase.” It’s a powerful song. Wallace’s Song (Sage Bush) is the opposite in that it’s an excellent uptempo country love song with a clever chorus referencing one of country music’s enduring duos. It’s a good enough song to get Ms. Thackston up onto that Grand Ole Opry stage.