Hadley McCall Thackston

Hadley McCall Thackston

Wolfe Island Records, 2018

http://wolfeislandrecords.com/hadleymccallthackston

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/27/2018

“Timeless” is one of those adjectives music writers throw around like confetti while rarely delving into what they actually mean by it. On the other hand, when you encounter an album by a 25-year-old that feels like it could have been made in any one of the preceding five or six decades, there’s no getting around it: this music feels timeless.

Hadley McCall Thackston grew up singing, but her career trajectory has been anything but a straight line, veering off into a fascination with theatre that led to a year of drama school in Ireland before she returned to her Decatur, Georgia roots. There, an extended bout of “porch-sittin’” tapped into the muse that birthed these songs. The vagaries of social media accelerated things when a clip of one of Thackston’s porch performances caught the attention of singer-songwriter David Corley, a family friend, who passed it on to his producer Hugh Christopher Brown. Within weeks, instead of recording a demo or two in Nashville, Thackston was ensconced at Brown’s Wolfe Island Studios in Ontario making this self-titled debut album.

The album’s cover nails the esthetic of its contents—a vintage-flavored, sepia-toned image that’s accented and amplified by more modern flourishes. Thackston’s instantly familiar yet thoroughly original voice lights up a set of deceptively traditionalist, upbeat Americana folk-rock that also features all manner of quirky twists. The album’s front-loaded highlights also serve to highlight Thackston’s considerable range within that basic musical frame.

Opener “Butterfly” compares coming of age to the emergence of a butterfly while burnishing the familiar metaphor with memorable lines like “Wings of paper, heart of sky / In weakness is where your strength lies”; it’s ultimately a song about trusting and staying true to yourself. Next up, “Ellipsis” is a frothy, jazzy tune about romantic possibility: “Ooo-hoo, these are the things you could do / Ellipsis.” It’s a quirky choice to build a song around a fairly obscure punctuation term, but as a grammar nerd myself, I dug it, as well as the saxophone accents that give the song an extra breath of cool.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Redbird” follows with a sharply-drawn dialogue on philosophy and spirituality, comparing the narrator’s wishing on a redbird with a friend’s reliance on scripture, before arriving at this intriguingly ambiguous conclusion: “And when we finally cross over / You’ll see that neither one is wrong.” “Somehow” pushes the envelope further, a song about longing for a dream lover that features a rather continental opening with classically-flavored violin and guitar lines that then transition into a much more countrified sound with prominent slide, an intoxicating mélange of styles.

“Change” takes juxtaposition to the next level as Thackston matches a retro country-folk arrangement with a decidedly of-the-moment subject: police killings of African American men. It’s a sincere, deeply felt effort that feels just a little off, with an on-the-nose lyric that leans more toward preaching than illustrating or evoking. Next, the upbeat “Wallace’s Song (Sage Bush)” offers a celebration of love and devotion full of terrific lines: “You have gathered my heart’s pieces very slowly over time / And stitched them up so that I am whole… You’re the Johnny to my June, for you I’ll always walk the line / And I promise that my steps will never waver / It’s your hand that I will hold when we’ve been aged by father time / There it’ll stay until the day we meet our maker.”

Thackston returns to philosophy and self-analysis with the languorous “Devil Or Angel,” asking “Do you let what people say / Affect how you live day to day / Take the mask off it’s not worth it / You are something when not perfect / Time to let your real self show.” The similarly introspective “Ghost” celebrates solitude with a piano-led arrangement and chorus (“I’m walking as a ghost tonight”) that carries distant echoes of Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight.”

This tight little album—clocking in at 10 songs and 31 minutes—finishes up with the tight little anthem “Last Mountain Waltz,” whose initial verse moves at a trot before strings billow and inflate it into something bigger and bolder. Here and throughout, Thackston employs a quirky delivery, speeding up and slowing down lines, twisting and turning words and phrases in evocative ways. The heart of Thackston’s artistry lies in the contrast between her music’s rather traditionalist country-folk foundations and the knowing tone she infuses into every line, a distinct perspective on the world that feels both idiosyncratic and, yes, timeless on this strong and consistently engaging debut.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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