Photo: Kate Cauthen Photography
The corridor of old brick buildings and bustling honky tonks in downtown Nashville known as Lower Broadway has found itself a new queen. The street that sits in the shadows of the Country Music Mother Church where the heels of all the old greats once used to strut by, or saunter down, or waltz across in a tipsy stupor, and was once virtually abandoned when the Ryman Auditorium was shuttered and the Grand Ole Opry moved miles away, is now a vibrant portion of the country music holy land once again, harboring a spirit that is as closely tied to the roots of country as one can find, both in location and in the longing to see the old ghosts of country music’s past flourish again.
Haunting stages at The Bluegrass Inn or Robert’s Western World on any given night is the ravenesque Sarah Gayle Meech. This isn’t the overnight sensation approach to making it in the music business. This isn’t about moving to town and pitching your songs to superstars in buildings out on Music Row. This isn’t hopping on fancy tours and hoping to get noticed by label executives. Sarah Gayle Meech’s approach is one that’s cousin to the blue collars she sings for every night. This is about playing four hour sets. This is about being able to recite just about any country standard from a 50 year span at the flip of a dime. This is about growing callouses so thick on your fingers from playing guitar that you could run them the wrong way on a cheese grater and not flinch. This is about finding your place in the world and leaving a mark, and knowing that years of paying dues will pay off in the future, even if the present fails to pay worthy notice.
Sarah Gayle Meech released her debut album One Good Thing in 2012, and it was a testament to her growing place as one of the leading women in traditional country. But it was a prototype; a starting point in what you knew was going to become a long career contributing a legacy of original songs to country music’s library.
Her new record Tennessee Love Song is about establishing Sarah Gayle Meech as a neotraditionalist standard bearer for the new generation of artists. After Lower Broadway went from slum to tourist trap in the 90’s and the whole neotraditionalist thing with BR549, Wayne Hancock, and Hank3 scored its high water mark and the question was, “Who is next? Where do we go from here?” …the answer for the here and now is Sarah Gayle Meech.
Reading back on my review of Sarah’s first album One Good Thing, I observed, “What I want to see from here is how she develops and figures out a way to separate herself sonically from the overwhelming crowd of traditional bands and artists playing honky tonk music these days…all the greats in the genre brought something unique to the table. They added something, or took something away, or reached deep down inside themselves to find a way to separate themselves from the herd.”
Tennessee Love Song does that very thing. Where One Good Thing was solid, but almost a little too consistent, this new effort features variety to spare. Tennessee Love Song works like a road map, like a travelogue through a traditional country dream, drifting through the different eras and influences of the genre, reliving the golden years of country before everything got corrupted.
Going along with Sarah Gayle is Andy Gibson—the long-time steel guitar player for Hank Williams III who’s been making albums on the side for quite some time now. Similar to Sarah, Andy was always the working man’s renegade studio owner, engineer, and producer. But through Tennessee Love Song, he shows his depth of being able to work in not just textures and tones, but eras and influences in a way that is eerily evocative and intoxicating in how it opens portals to the past.
It’s still fair to call Sarah’s style more interpretive than original, and even though Tennessee Love Song is amply spicy and engaging, it didn’t really give Sarah Gayle any specific moments to really step out vocally like we know she can.
Still, Tennessee Love Song is one of those career-defining records that sees Sarah Gayle Meech step up, step out, and establish herself as a standard bearer for old Nashville.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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