Archives: Sarah Gayle Meech ‘Tennessee Love Song’ – Album Review
This article was first published on March 18th, 2015 on forthecountryrecord.com.
Recent recipient of the Female Outlaw of the Year award at the Ameripolitan Awards, Sarah Gayle Meech is back on March 31st with her sophomore record ‘Tennessee Love Song’ (the follow-up to 2012’s ‘One Good Thing’). During the past couple of years she’s been building her reputation with residencies at Robert’s Western World on Lower Broadway and Layla’s Bluegrass Inn, and indeed it’s her performing at the former that was featured on a recent episode of ABC’s Nashville (February 25). Still, it’s somewhat ironic to be featured in a late-night drama about Music City considering the subject matter of the title track on this record, even if Nashville has become known for featuring non-mainstream performers and songwriters and eschews more towards Americana than mainstream country music.
You see, ‘Tennessee Love Song’ forms a narrative that is not what the title – nor casual listening – implies. Instead, it is fashioned as a letter to the State, a representation of her career experience in Music City as a traditional country artist and a modern-day outlaw. “Tennessee I love you”, she trills with that raspy, smokey tone of hers, “But you’re never ever gonna love me. You’re just wasting your time running around with a young thing. Oh, my Tennessee, ain’t it time you stopped hurting me?” The lyric is imploring, and yet somehow resigned to the situation she finds herself in, a reject of Music Row that just wants – and deserves – to be heard. Her story is one that can be applied to countless artists and songwriters, both known and unknown, and perfectly sums up the dichotomy of striving for success in a town that offers such intoxicating promise and yet won’t take them for who they truly are.
The other fourteen tracks on this record, therefore, set about laying out her artistic persona and musical differences that scare off executives from placing her on mainstream country radio. A broken-hearted, tattoo-covered feminist troubadour that is both unavoidably tomboyish and also delicately feminine, she weaves carefully between the styles of the 1960s and 1970s, drawing from the Bakersfield Sound, the Nashville Sound, Countrypolitan and Outlaw Country. But not content to stick to that era exclusively, she also delves into western swing on ‘Love of Mine’, more modern, soulful country blues on ‘True Love’ (a fantastic duet with Joshua Hedley), and neo-traditional country of the early 1990s on ‘The Loneliest Place In Town’. She never abandons her central theme of a true, twangy, heart-and-soul country sound, however, and the stylistic differences between the tracks remain subtle and more of an extension of what we understand her to be rather than a schizophrenic catch-all approach.
So what do we understand Sarah to be? In short, a woman who isn’t afraid to be forthright, isn’t afraid to be a dominant character, but also a woman who isn’t afraid to hurt in public. Still, she doesn’t hurt in the way that we might expect from a country pop darling, a Music Row puppet, as instead of crying in her best dress and high heels, she’s at the bar with the guys throwing back beer and shots and staring gloomily into her glass in the way we might expect from Johnny Cash (‘At The Bar Again’). She is hardened from life, with the wisdom and the lessons learned sprawled out across her skin, and we respect her authority to tell us about the pain and the heartache. In many ways, her femininity speaks of a modern-day woman who demands to be represented as equal, remaining an ambassador of her gender but refusing to give in to the stereotypes of pure, delicate and vulnerable, at least not in a way that you would not expect from a man. She is a storyteller, an advocate and a talented musician, and despite making music and penning classic lyrics that recall decades long gone in a decidedly postmodern fashion, Sarah is locked firmly in the present with her viewpoint and her identity.
It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that Music Row don’t know what to do with her. Their forte is organizing artists into specific categories and marketing them to familiar demographics and associated stereotypes, but Sarah is not the kind to fit a mould. In fact, she subverts much of what one might expect from a female country artist, even in today’s world. But that’s what makes her so fascinating as an artist, that’s what makes her music so good. She is not any one thing, but many, and those things have built her into a pillar of artistic integrity. “No matter what, stay gold,” she sings on the closing track ‘Stay Gold’, dishing out advice as if to her children. Perhaps it’s what she had needed to hear back when she started out. Certainly a lot of artists in today’s realm could do with hearing it too.