Til the Dawn
Try listening to any “modern country” radio station for one round of its current rotation and you’re bound to run into the new “liberated trailer park whore” dynamic that’s gaining popularity. Gretchen Wilson’s inbred doubleheader of “Redneck Woman” and “I’m Here For the Party” may be girl-power anthems for the eternally knocked-up and tornado-swept feminists, but for me it does little more than feed the stereotype of uncultured bumpkin ignorance to Springer-esque proportions. Particularly stupid in “Redneck Woman” is Wilson’s boast that she “knows the words to every Tanya Tucker song.” (It’s like Puddle of Mudd admitting they were influenced by Nirvana. No fucking shit.) One listen to Nora O’Connor’s stellar Til the Dawn will tell you that she not only knows Tanya Tucker, but she’s also got a handle on Dusty Springfield, Billie Holliday and Stevie Nicks (whose “That’s Alright” is covered to country-pop perfection.)
The album opens with “My Backyard,” one of O’Connor’s two originals. The song rolls along on summer dirt road ambiance: Byrds-like guitar jangle, rippling Hammond organ and dusty, brushed drums. The push-off of an ex-lover in the lyrics is nicely done with a sly, painful smile. O’Connor’s lonely songbird voice is ideally suited for wistful tracks like this, as it is for weary, low-key lament like the southern expatriate blues of “Bottoms.” It’s close to a laundry list of the album, but the tremolo-tickled Nashville sound on “OK With Me,” the jazzy Andrew Bird string showcase “Love Letters” and the rolling Kentucky bluegrass tribute “Nightingale” are all outstanding.
On the closing track, “Down Here,” O’Connor sings, “down here it’s as you left it/waiting for the gray to clear.” In terms of her music, it’s almost a conscious acknowledgment that her brand of traditional country needs to lay dormant while the bland dross that stifles country radio runs its course. Maybe then O’Connor will set the record straight that the best country music doesn’t evoke images of trailer parks, but of actual countryside.