After a few tentative steps, Cortney Tidwell and Lambchop‘s Kurt Wagner have finally produced an entire album together. A performance in Nashville’s The Basement a few years ago and Wagner’s contribution to Tidwell’s album Don’t Let The Stars Keep Us Tangled Up provided the starting points, but it is the musical past of Tidwell’s family that provides the framework for this album.
Essentially a collection of cover versions, these songs are plucked from the back catalogue of Chart Records – a label that was headed by Tidwell’s grandfather (the brilliantly named Slim Williamson), and then her father Cliff. If that weren’t reason enough to use Chart’s songs as a starting point, Tidwell’s mother, Connie Eaton, also had an association with the label as a performing artist.
Wagner of course has a history of considerable clout himself. As bandleader of Lambchop (more a collective than a band it must be said) his contribution to Country, Folk and Americana is beyond question. His pairing with Tidwell on Kort is an absolute joy throughout. Wagner’s deep-down drawl is offset by Tidwell’s sweet, almost optimistic vocals. On Wild Mountain Berries, a real liquor-driven hoe-down, Tidwell almost becomes the Dolly Parton to Wagner’s Kenny Rogers. However, for the most part, it is the partnership of Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan that their partnership resembles, with frayed world weariness blending exquisitely with Tidwell’s disarming habit of switching between an apparently detached approach and being utterly immersed in the moment.
Wagner’s vocals might well resonate with a sense of sorrow and a peculiarly comforting warmth, but Tidwell steals the show with Who’s Going To Love Me Now? Originally sung by her mother (who passed away aged just 49) this song about the dissolution of a relationship takes on a new narrative in her daughter’s hands.�Tidwell fills the song with such sadness that the mournful lap steel that accompanies her sounds positively ecstatic. It is, despite its depressing content, utterly spellbinding.
Elsewhere, there is plenty to marvel at. The sheer musicianship on display is incredible, and they deserve a share of the plaudits for making Invariable Heartache more than just a simple exercise in trotting out a few country numbers. Penetration, for example, stretches beyond the familiar Nashville sound and reaches for Burt Bacharach territory – and reaches it more or less successfully. That it doesn’t sound out of place alongside the lament of April’s Fool or the haunted duet Incredibly Lonely is a credit to them.
Generally there’s not too much straying away from the Nashville sound and Wagner’s production keeps things sounding impressively full and remarkably fresh considering the age of the source material. As a nod to the past Kort provides a fascinating glimpse of a label and its roster. However it’s the stories of the performers and the songs themselves that make it an interesting and involved experience.