I tried hard to like the music I heard during the Country Music Awards earlier this month. Real hard. That sound is to country music what Mannheim Steamroller is to Christmas music. It's country music because they say so. And they say it over and over and over, "y'all."
I was still recovering from the telecast when the new Whitney Mann recording, This Little Light of Mine, landed in my hands. For the country music lover stuck between a rock and the Band Perry, it's like a shot of the real stuff. My main complaint is that there are only three cuts.
Chris Wagoner's resophonic guitar clucks like a hen in the title track. Over the course of this and Mann's first record, The Western Sky, Chris and his wife, singer and cellist Mary Gaines, have become extended musical family for Mann.
The public domain number was written as a children's gospel song, and Mann gives it the uplifting spiritual tones of a Memphis church basement.
Church isn't out on the second cut. If "This Little Light" points to promise, "The Cruelest Thing" is a hymn of the opposite sort. It's a heart stomper of the old country music sort. In a dying relationship that won't end, Mann sings, "coming home to you is never easy. Lying there next to you makes me feel cold." Like traditional country artists before her, Mann knows the exact place where love ceases being a sacrament and starts to become a sacrifice.
This project marks the first time Mann has included her own piano playing in her recordings. The third cut is a piano instrumental. "Stroll Through the Park," is a playful ditty that would be at home on a Charlie Brown holiday TV special.
This Little Light of Mine is also getting a 45 RPM vinyl release. It comes just in time for the singer-songwriter and MBA student's opening set for an old-country kindred spirit: George Jones. That show is Friday, Nov. 16 down in Peoria, Illinois. Mann's Madison album-release show at the High Noon Saloon starts at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 20.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.