Album Review – Alecia Nugent’s “The Old Side of Town”

photo: David McClister

Whether you remember her from her days on Rounder Records as one of the premier vocalists in bluegrass, or if she’s just now raising a blip on your radar, Alecia Nugent and her new album The Old Side of Town is worth bending your ear towards. The Hickory Grove, Louisiana native is back after a decade-long absence from the studio, and re-emerging with an old sound that’s new to her.

Recording three records for Rounder between between 2004 and 2009, and working closely with the Grammy-winning Carl Jackson, Nugent was nominated for IBMA Awards, and was well-heralded in the bluegrass realm for her earlier output. But Old Side of Town is all traditional country, heavily steeped in heartbreak songs, and slathered with steel guitar.

To put the record together, Nugent chose a smart selection of songs that work well both together and individually, and co-wrote numerous selections to give the effort a personal touch. Whether it’s putting her own spin on Tom. T. Hall’s “The Old Side of Town” for the title track—setting up the mood in which the album will unfurl—or the more obscure “Too Bad You’re No Good” originally recorded by Trisha Yearwood, she did her homework, and found some worthy traditional songs that aren’t yet worn out and are still worthy of highlighting.

Alecia Nugent also taps some lesser-known names for some of the album’s greatest selections, including the devastating and super well-written “I Might Have One Too” by Erin Enderlin, co-written with Larry Cordle, and Brandy Clark’s “The Other Woman.” If you want heartbreak songs, The Old Side of Town has you covered in spades.

But it’s the songs that Alecia Nugent wrote for the album herself that make it worth the spin. It just means so much more when you know the inspiration and sentiment found in a song is coming from the person you hear singing it, especially when those songs are so personal, like Nugent’s tribute to her father who she lost since last in the studio, or “Way Too Young For Wings,” which you can probably guess what it’s about, or leaving songs like “Tell Fort Worth I Said Hello” and “I Thought He’d Never Leave.” Nugent barrels you over with one emotional haymaker after another.

And the musicians selected to bring this record to life are like a living, live action display from a traditional country Hall of Fame. Guitarist Brent Mason, Stuart Duncan on fiddle and mandolin, Paul Franklin and Dan Dugmore on steel guitar, Rob Ikes on dobro among other notables, and they’re all working under the direction of producer Keith Stegall who produced most every Alan Jackson album in print. Like a Chinese piano box, there’s nothing out of place when it comes to the music of this record.

It’s also fair to say there’s nothing really new or groundbreaking found on The Old Side of Town. But that’s exactly the point. There’s plenty of alternatives to actual country music out there swirling around in the digital world, yet still stamped with the “country” label. So here’s an unapologetic effort that reminds you what country music is actually supposed to sound like.

Alecia Nugent did her level best to keep the proud traditions of bluegrass music alive earlier in her career. Whether The Old Side of Town is just a side junket into traditional country world or she chooses to become a permanent fixture (which would be fine by us), we’re happy to have Alecia Nugent’s voice and pen grace this side of roots music. It’s a bluegrass great gone country, and we’re here for it.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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