I once spent a very interesting weekend down in Northern Kentucky attending a get together of “flea-powered” (1.5 to 5 watt) tube-amplifier aficionados. On a very, very early Friday morning I loaded myself into my old buddy’s Volvo wagon and we headed out from Haverhill, Massachusetts. Some fifteen hours (and only one wrong turn … thank you Triple-A maps) later we arrived at our motel. After sipping a couple of well-deserved beers while waiting for the road vibrations to dissipate, we retired to our rooms and konked out.
The next day was spent at audio-fest host Randy’s house meeting many of the folks we’d only known through the Internet. While much beer and fabulous barbeque was consumed, the focus of the day was music. Homebrew speaker systems (my buddy brought his single-driver, Lowther-based cabinets), glowing tubes and high-end CD transports.
Late in the evening, it was my turn to share some of the music I’d brought along. The last song played (after offering up the score to American Beauty and some more jazz-oriented things) was a simple guitar and voice ballad. As the song neared its end and all of the instruments fell away, the entire room of by now slightly tipsy and very chatty folks became silent. It was the voice of Lori McKenna singing “Hardly Speaking A Word.” Immediately after the song ended, somebody piped up with a “Wow, who was that?!”
Faith Hill had a similar reaction upon hearing McKenna’s music. In fact, even though sessions for her 2005 release Fireflies was essentially complete, Hill returned to the studio to record “If You Ask,” “Stealing Kisses” and the ‘new’ title track, “Fireflies.” Good for her. The added material gave Hill’s record real soul, something I find missing from a lot of modern pop and country music.
Fireflies was supposed to be more of a country record than past Hill releases. While nobody was going to mistake this for a Loretta Lynn album, it did have less of that neo-country sheen. For starters, there was the breezy, banjo and pedal steel-inflected “Sunshine and Summertime,” the rockin’ assurance that Faith hasn’t been affected by fame (“Mississippi Girl”), and the hilarious and swingin’ two-step that is “Dearly Beloved,” the story of a marriage that’ll never last — maybe not even beyond the ceremony. Ah, but what would a country record be without a little serious lament? “Ain’t Gonna Take It” told the story of a woman finally ready to make the break from a relationship that’s run its course.
Following that are two Lori McKenna-penned tunes that prove to me that Hill may have found her songwriting soulmate. (Sorry, Big amd Rich … sorry, Tim McGraw … it’s the truth.) By the time you make it through McKenna’s “Fireflies,” you’ll see what I’m talking about.
I have to admit that I didn’t want to like this record. Hill’s previous hits like “Breathe” were pretty but left me feeling empty. This is a kinda pathetic attitude coming from the guy who lost his last chunk of indie cred the day he bought his first Shania Twain CD. But hey, I fell for Twain’s “Still The One.” Similarly, Hill’s “Wish For You” got me right where it counts. Sorry, but that trill in her voice just killed me.
Fireflies finished me off with the only tune dealing in Breathe-esque orchestration. “Paris” may not be a country ballad, but it is as sincere as the Lori McKenna songs that put this record over the top.
On the drive back from Kentucky we amused ourselves by taking photos of various roadside oddities. The funny stripjoint sign outside of the truckstop. The sign for “Big Bone Lick State Park.” I mean, we have odd stuff up here in New England but nothing to match that … or maybe we’re just used to our own introverted weirdness.
All I know is that that weekend turned out to be much more than I expected, very much like Fireflies.