My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Alecia Nugent – ‘Hillbilly Goddess’

HillbillyGoddessI first heard Alecia Nugent back in 2004, when she released her eponymous debut album. It had some great songs on it, but I must confess that I didn’t really enjoy her singing, which I felt lacked subtlety and verged on the strident. Because of that, I passed on her follow-up in 2006, A Little Girl … A Big Four Lane, and it is only now, with the release of her third album Hillbilly Goddess, that I have rediscovered Alecia.

Her singing has improved immeasurably. Her tone has become warmer and fuller, the stridency I disliked has disappeared, and she has developed the ability to sing with subtlety as well as emotion. Carl Jackson’s production is faultless, and the pair of them have picked some very good songs well-suited to Alecia’s voice and style, which is very much in the country-meets-bluegrass vein.

The change is evident from the first track, the edgy ‘Wreckin’ The Train’, where Alecia gives it some rambling-girl attitude as she refuses to settle down: “I just had to walk away, he would have made a good husband, I guess that’s why I couldn’t stay.”

There is a gorgeous version of Buddy and Julie Miller’s modern classic ‘Don’t Tell Me’, which is imbued with delicately understated emotion, which is perhaps the best exemplification of how far Alecia has progressed as a vocalist. She gives a beautifully understated reading of Tim O’Brien’s regretfully poetic ‘Wishing Hard’: “Sugar just can’t hide the taste of bitterness that you get from wasting a heart that’s full of love but just can’t show it”.

Several of the songs are told in the third person, although they tend more towards snapshots of lives rather than true story songs. Some of them work rather nicely together. The downbeat ‘Just Another Alice’ takes a sympathetic look at aspiring singers “believing they’re a song away from being stars” but really “just another Alice here in Wonderland”. In ‘The Last Greyhound’ an 18 year old girl who might be one of those Alices leaves home to follow her dreams, only to find home is what she really dreams of. A male protagonist learns the same lesson later in life in the mellow-sounding closing track, ‘Already Home’:

“He knew the road like the back of his own hand,
He’d been on it a lifetime, still he wouldn’t call it a friend,
He said, he guessed some people search forever for something they already own,
And he could have saved himself a lot of miles if he had only known”

The joyful title track, co-written by Alecia herself with Jackson and Sonya Kelly, is a light-hearted but at heart, deeply romantic, tale of true love, set to a lively up-tempo tune featuring banjo from J D Crowe. The downhome heroine “may not be a glamor queen”, but to her man, she is the eponymous “hillbilly goddess”. The label should try this irresistible song as a single.

My absolute favorite track is the classic country heartbreak of ‘Dyin’ To Hold Her Again’, written by Jerry Salley and Joanie Keller-Johnson:
“Now he’s under the table, dyin’ to hold her again
The bottle’s his weapon of choice to do himself in
Oh he lies there and prays,
‘Lord, take me away
I can’t drink enough whiskey to ease all the pain that I’m in’
Now he’s under the table, dyin’ to hold her again

Oh Lord, it’s killing him trying to live without her
When you have to die to get better, it can’t get any worse
This misison of pure self-destruction began when she left
Yes, he started digging his own grave the day that he laid her to rest”

There is more traditional country in the Larry Cordle/Connie Leigh-penned duet with Bradley Walker, an agonised realisation that a relationship is over, because ‘The Writing’s All Over the Wall’. Walker, another fine vocalist who overlaps country and bluegrass, blends well vocally with Alecia, and also offers harmonies on ‘Don’t Tell Me’.

Back in first person, the sprightly bluegrass ‘Cryin’ All The Way To The Bank’, has the narrator finding a literal silver lining when her broken heart inspires her songwriting:

“You see, a girl’s got to live
And it pays to forgive
All you put me through
I ought to be willing –
I’m making a killing
All because of losing you

It’s a great idea for a song, neatly realized by writers Carl Jackson and Rebecca Lynn Howard and brought to life by Alecia’s zesty vocal.

I also liked the fond reminiscence of Alecia’s childhood travelling around Louisiana with ‘The Nugent Family Band’, co-written by Alecia with Tom T Hall and his wife Dixie.

In retrospect, I think perhaps Alecia’s first album was released prematurely – at least for me. It would have been so easy for me to write her off permanently as someone who might be talented, and acclaimed elsewhere, but whose voice was just not to my taste; I am extremely glad I gave her a second chance, because this really was a delightful surprise. Perhaps I now need to chase up that 2006 sophomore album I missed out on.

Grade: A

Listen to the album at Alecia’s website.

11 responses to “Album Review: Alecia Nugent – ‘Hillbilly Goddess’

  1. Steve from Boston May 16, 2009 at 8:35 am

    Excellent, comprehensive review…And I agree completely, this is an outstanding album. Not only that, it is playing on my CD player as I write this. I just picked it up last night, and was delighted to see your awesome review in such a timely fashion. This is my first album of hers, so it is my introducetion to Alecia’s music…so there was no initial disapointment for me for me to overcome. But if there were, this album would do the trick! Not only are her vocals first rate bluegassy, but the instrumentation is breakneck breathtaking..the musicians all Hillbilly virtuosos!

    I used to watch the Bluegrass channel, and discovered some great artists including Alecia Nugent before Music Choice made the grievous error of dropping it from it’s lineup in favor of some electronica/dance crap or somesuch. To justify this baffling decicion, they cited their desire to accomodate America’s changing mucical tastes, and and increasingly more diverse demographic. If this is not a sure sign of the decline of Western Civilization, I don’t know what is.

    Thank Heaven that Country and Bluegrass treasures such as Alecia Nugent Hillbilly Goddess can still be found in record stores at least. My recommendation? Get yours while you still can!

  2. Steve from Boston May 16, 2009 at 8:37 am

    My only criticism of this fine album is that eleven tracks are just not enough! 😉

  3. Pingback: Alecia Nugent: Hillbilly Goddess « I’m Gonna Roll

  4. Blake Boldt May 16, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    I’d have to say this album’s got a real shot at my year-end top ten. The only albums this year that compete, for me, are the Willie & the Wheel collaboration and the Dailey & Vincent album. Fresh, energizing take on the country-bluegrass borderline. All the highpoints are covered here, especially “Don’t Tell Me,” which was a real revelation of her growing interpretive talent. Nice review.

  5. Chris May 17, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Great job- I’ll have to check this album out!

    EDIT: Listening to the itunes clips, her voice is great, very much like Joey Martin, but with a little extra twang. I think I’ll have to get this album!

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  7. Dan May 26, 2009 at 3:06 am

    Great review! I love this new album as Alecia moves more towards traditional country but keeps with her Bluegrass roots. Despite these two masterpiece albums, it looks as if she’s struggled to find her “home” in the music business, and from looking at her touring schedule it looks as if she has suffered from Bluegrass fans not accepting her, but not being pop or loud enough for Country.
    Maybe, just maybe, one of these wonderful songs will find it’s way into mainstream radio play.
    There were several tunes on her previous album (“You’ve Still Got It”, “It Won’t Be Me”, “Muddy River”, “God Knows What”, “You’ve Still Got It”) that should have been on the brains and lips of millions, but somehow got shuffled into the Bluegrass bins and away from mainstream hit status.
    Let’s all hope that this great collection doesn’t meet the same fate.
    (Oh, and BTW, to the reviewer, you MUST get “Little Girl…”. It’s right up there with this one and as good as some of the great Bluegrass/Country albums of the past few years)

  8. Pingback: Year In Review: Occasional Hope’s Top Ten Albums of 2009 « My Kind Of Country

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