Chely Wright always came in as a second-tier Nashville star, but she also turned in many convincing performances, even when caught in the poppy studio style of the times. Like many modern Nashvillers, Wright wound up going indie as the wheels of Music City started grinding past her... She also burned a few bridges by publicly coming out of the closet (and making an album about it) which may not have endeared her to the more conservative-leaning folks in Nashville... Oh, well. To thine own self be true! Here's a quick look at her work...
Chely Wright "20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection" (MCA Nashville, 2003)
Chely Wright "The Definitive Collection" (MCA Nashville, 2007)
Chely Wright "The Woman In The Moon" (Polygram, 1994)
Chely Wright "Right In The Middle Of It" (Polygram, 1996)
Chely Wright "Let Me In" (MCA, 1997)
(Produced by Tony Brown)
Her third album, and her first for MCA... A nice mix of bouncy, upbeat numbers and slower but still quite pleasant ballads... She has a torchy feel that's kind of like Rosanne Cash, and a sentimental side that brings Don Williams to mind (particularly on songs like "Emma Jean's Guitar"). She's got a real twanginess about her, and a feel for heartsongs that's refreshing to hear. Nice version of "Feeling Single, Seeing Double," too!
Chely Wright "Single White Female" (MCA, 1999)
(Produced by Tony Brown, Buddy Cannon & Norro Wilson)
It's still mostly working for me on here; at least the title track is kinda fun, although with the tilt towards slower ballads, she is starting to sound a little Reba-ish... A pop-oriented flatness is starting to creep into her work, but I still find Wright herself to be a pretty appealing performer. Wish she'd stick more to the upbeat material.
Chely Wright "Never Love You Enough" (MCA-Nashville, 2001)
(Produced by Tony Brown, Buddy Cannon, Dan Huff & Paul Worley)
Absurdly over-the-top Nashville pop, with painfully over-obvious lyrics. Huge, oceanic sound beds drape her vocals, mercilessly herding the listeners into little sonic rodeo chutes and forcing them to coexist with shrill, tinny melodic pop riffs. I mean... her sound almost works, but it's really a bit much. Hate those too-clever drum machines riffs that are "slyly" added to the mix, just letting you know that this ain't your grandma's country music... Wright has an okay voice, but this music is far too intrusive and bossy -- it doesnŐt give you a chance to think, it just keeps trying to subdue you and get your ears to surrender. Markedly prefab and unsubtle. Yuck.
Chely Wright "Metropolitan Hotel" (Dualtone, 2005)
(Produced by Jeff Huskins, Stephony Smith & Chely Wright)
With somewhat of a hit-or-miss relationship with the Nashville charts, Chely Wright has the luxury of going in just about any musical direction she wants to... She kicks this disc off with Katrina Elam's "It's The Song," a relatively rootsy ode to the road in which she pledges allegiance to the spirit of Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton, with pedal steel and banjo galore. But right after that, Wright forsakes her twangitude in favor of more conventional, piano-heavy pop-country ballads. The album's first single, the self-penned "Bumper Of My SUV," is an Iraq War-related patriotic number which is remarkable in several ways... First off, there's the super-minimal arrangements, with Wright halfway reciting the lyrics over a simple, sparse backdrop of piano and mandolin... Other than the timeliness, it's almost amazing that it was released as a single! The lyrical content is also striking, but in a more subtle way: even though she's sticking up for the Marine Corps, Wright also leaves some room in there for us to still question authority ("And yes, I do have questions/I get to ask them because I'm free..." she sings, leaving a little more political wiggle room than on your average chest-thumping, flag-waver anthem.) In general, I like the songwriting on this album, but the production doesn't always seem like a perfect match. "I Got Him Ready For You," for example, is an outstanding subject for a chick-centric power ballad -- a woman laments all the work she put in to transform her ex-lover into an emotionally mature adult -- but structurally the song itself seems to drag on a bit; a more concise, pointed rendition of this song would have made it absolutely devastating. Probably the best song on here is "What If I Can't Say No Again," in which late-night phone calls and a knock on the door make a woman question her ability to rebuff her ex, who has since hooked up with someone else... If I was still programming a commercial country station, that'd be the song I'd pick as a dark horse favorite. Once again, Wright doesn't totally live up to her potential, but she says what she wants to and has a distinctive presence. It's worth checking out if your a commercial country listener.
Chely Wright "Lifted Off The Ground" (Vanguard, 2010)
(Produced by Rodney Crowell)
Five years ago, Chely Wright left the confines of the Top 40 country scene for a more stripped-down sound on an indie label; she goes further on that journey here, a moody, soulful, deeply personal album in which Wright comes out of the closet and, doubtless, burns her last bridge with the socially conservative Nashville establishment. But while she closes one door, she opens others, courting a folkier, more diverse audience and delivering a powerful album that should attract and satisfy these new fans. Certainly, with the anguish and honesty of this emotionally raw batch of songs, she's a million miles away from the calculated, prefab "earthiness" of today's commercial country scene, entering into the confessional folk-pop terrain pioneered by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rosanne Cash and others. The first sign that this album takes a new direction if the half-giddy, half-morbid suicide novelty song, "Notes To The Coroner," catchy and clever, but a bit disturbing as well. It's soon followed by the album's masterpiece, the mournful, acoustic "Like Me," which is a brilliantly written, utterly aching ballad addressed to a woman that Wright has fallen in love with, but can never attain, because while she wants to come out of the closet, her lover cannot. The rest of the album is mostly an echo of that searing, painful blast -- more regret, anger, recriminations, sorrow. She swears on a couple of tunes (which will probably help this album gain some notoriety) but the words sound natural, an affirmation of her intensity, not a mere gimmick. This album is clearly a work of self-therapy, but not entirely one of self-indulgence... Indeed, it's rare to hear a record that is so palpably relevant and real, so emotionally direct and meaningful. Wright isn't dabbling in style or obscuring her thoughts in wordplay or irony -- all the current conventions of pop and twang are thrown out the window as we hear an artist simply expressing herself, and exploring her own thoughts as she makes one of the biggest decisions of her life. It's a compelling record, and many of us will wish her all the best in days and years to come.
"Like Me: Confessions Of A Heartland Country Singer"
Written by Chely Wright
(Pantheon Books, 2010)
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