By Cortney Tidwell (City Slang)
Playing Friday, 25th at The Basement w/Caitlin Rose & Tristen
It doesn't take long for Cortney Tidwell to get her hooks into you. By the time you get to the very first full-throated chorus in "Solid State," the opening track on her latest album, Boys, you know beyond all doubt that this isn't some wispy singer-songwriter reading off coffee napkins--this is a singer, and this song is going to take you somewhere. (And probably cause a bit of delightful havoc with the little hairs on the back of your neck in the process.) There's a spell that Boys casts, and as a listener, you're happy to be under it.
Beyond the haunting, visceral impact of Tidwell's singing, it also doesn't hurt that the album is studded throughout with spot-on instrumentation that can go from lush to lavish, stark to celestial, on the turn of a beautifully sung phrase. There's the rush and push of "17 Horses," which starts out something like the Velvets' "Waiting for My Man" and ends up more like attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion--with echoing guitar and a drum beat that feels like a couple hundred tons of rocket thrust. "Watusii," another stand-out, builds from a staccato electronic beat into a pulsing meditation that tugs as much on the hips as on the cerebellum. The album's quieter moments are never dull, and when Tidwell and her band of boys reel into near-febrile bursts of emotion, the intensity is palpable.
I caught up with Tidwell last week via email, and she answered a few questions about her new album (while also raising a few), while also expressing her love for Nashville and some of its up-and-coming young artists.
Nashville Cream: What was your process for writing and recording this album? Did you work from an idea, or did it come together more organically?
Cortney Tidwell: The writing process for me is usually just stream of consciousness vocal and piano or guitar. We record something in my basement and then add layer upon layer. Fortunately for me, Ryan Norris left his beloved Rhodes [keyboard] in my basement for six months, and this was a huge motivator for me, as I wrote "Oh, China" and "Palace" on that Rhodes. Ryan co-wrote some of the songs with me also. "Solid State" and "17 Horses" were band songs we recorded in one take in the studio. I love one-takes. The first take is usually the best take. I'd love to do an entire album of one-takes and demos.
NC: I ask that question because of the album's title and dedication, which make it seem that there was at least some kind of conceptual underpinning from the outset.
CT: I am a mother of two boys. And a wife. My best friends are the guys in the band, and for the last few years I've had very little interaction with females. It's very hard sometimes. I'm holding on to femininity tight, but this record is just a culmination of those feelings--about being a woman in a man's world.
NC: What's up with the U.S. distribution? Has that been worked out yet?
CT: American record labels don't seem to think that Americans want my music. It's not for lack of trying but they seem nervous of signing an artist who doesn't want to tour week in and week out. We're still working on a way of getting this record out there on a wider scale, but it may take a little while longer than we'd hoped. I'd like to sign to a Nashville label sometime soon though. I'm proud of my home. I'm happy to see young people focusing on country music again. Those Darlins and Caitlin and Tristen--I'm just damn proud of all of 'em, and I'm proud of my town.
NC: What is it about boys, anyway?
CT: Well, like i said, I've just been with the male kind way too much for 20 years. So i decided to write about it. It wasn't a conscious decision to make a record about boys. My life is about boys--positively and negatively. "Oh China" is about letting go of my babies and watching them grow. When I listen to "Oh China" I realize I wrote it about my husband and the boys in the band too. It's about watching them grow into old men. That's what happens when I write. I'm able to grasp the emotions I struggle so often with.
NC: How was working with Yim Yames?
CT: Working with Jim has been so amazing. He totally got what I was shooting for with the song ["Being Crosby"], and we share a love for David Crosby beyond words. I think he is extremely talented and I've been a fan of My Morning Jacket for years.
NC: Big plans coming up?
CT: Sure. I'm still writing songs, and loving being home in Nashville. But something very musically cool is in the beginning stages and I am looking forward to the future.