Melonie Cannon- And the Wheels Turn   Leave a comment

Melonie Cannon

And the Wheels Turn

Rural Rhythm


I need to be honest. I am not the biggest fan of wimpy-assed country songs, especially when sung by women. Maybe I’m biased, but I don’t see the appeal of syrupy lullabies disguised as emotionally-charged statements of sisterhood. If all a song has to offer are Martina McBride-isms, I’ll pass, thank you very much.


So I approached Melonie Cannon’s And the Wheels Turn with reluctance and apprehension. I had listened to her previous eponymous (did anyone use that word prior to 1988?) album on the Skaggs Family label. It didn’t make much of an impact. Not sure why, but it didn’t. Based on this new Rural Rhythm release, I’ll be giving it another listen.


Yes, almost every song finds a female protagonist fighting her way through a challenge- often a man or relationship, sometimes a loss or ‘the dark shadows’ of memory. And inevitably- if unrealistically- she finds herself on the other side, stronger for the experience. But, collectively, the album is greater than this description may lead one to anticipate. It is assuedly superior to what typically comes from the Nashville corporations.


And the Wheels Turn is a twelve-track assemblage of country songs with (largely) bluegrass instrumentation. Produced by Buddy Cannon and Ronnie Bowman, the same team as last time out, the arrangements and instrumental choices complement Cannon, framing her voice with poignant shadings necessary for maximum impact.


And yet, it doesn’t feel or sound calculating in any way!


What separates Melonie Cannon from female singers that have recently lost my interest- amongst them some prominent bluegrass voices- is that when she emotes in a song, it strikes me as legitimate. Cannon the singer has experienced these songs, even when Cannon the person hasn’t. Technically, perhaps others can tear apart an emotional song better than she, but it comes across as just play-acting from them. To me, it is the difference between Wynette and McEntire, and it’s what distinguishes Emmylou from Faith.


When Cannon sings, I accept as true that she sat on a plane beside a girl holding a “Cactus in a Coffee Can.” I enjoy “It’s All Right There” without the presence of any disingenuousness in what could be a soppy drive down memory lane. “Mary Magdalene (Why You Cryin’)” has a little Wynonna sass in it, and I appreciate that. Even the album’s most potentially cloying song “The Day Before You” succeeds in communicating the fragile line between What Is and What Could Have Been.


It takes balls to brave Vern Gosdin, but on “Set ’Em Up Joe” Cannon demonstrates that she can sing (and drink?) the best of them under the table; the liner notes hint that this isn’t the first time she’s taken on what may be her daddy’s most famous song. The title cut is masterful, and that song’s ‘What’s good for the gander…’ twist is appreciated even with repeated listening.


A new song- “I’ve Seen Enough of What’s Behind Me”- captures in a single image, that of an unattached rearview mirror, all the power necessary to catapult a song from pedestrian to impactful. Similarly, “I Just Don’t Have It In Me” has a pivotal pair of lines (“Cuss and scream and throw a few things, And leave my heart at the door”) that ensure the song resonates.


The album lists twenty musician credits, but doesn’t provide a song-by-song dossier. Randy Kohrs’s steel guitars are all over the album, lending atmospheric depth. The banjo is by Jody King and is a pleasure to hear. Other instrumental guests include Adam Steffey, Tim Stafford, Dan Tyminski, Willie Nelson, and Ricky Skaggs with Tyminski, Bowman, Skaggs, and Sonya Isaacs among those singing along.


What And the Wheels Turn demonstrates as much as anything is that country and bluegrass can be blended into a very palatable, individual sound that is non-generic. To do so requires a depth of natural understanding that few artists possess. Obviously, Melonie Cannon has the vocal and instinctive maturity to help each song find just the right road to travel.


And the wheels turn…


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