KORT, the duo of singer-songwriter Cortney Tidwell and Lambchop's Kurt Wagner, has made a true Nashville record, true to the history of its country music roots. Before the pop sheen and polish that have invaded Music City became its dominant sound, Nashville was a quieter place where small town southerners came to pursue a dream, write or record a song, and maybe end up on the Grand Ole Opry stage if everything went right.
Both Wagner and Tidwell come from Nashville, but Tidwell's connections run deep into Old Nashville. Tidwell's grandfather, Slim Williamson, ran a Nashville label named Chart Records which was active during the 60s and 70s. Her father, Cliff Williamson, worked at Chart as well, and her mother, Connie Eaton, was a recording artist for Chart.
Although both Wagner and Tidwell are well known in the alternative side of Nashville country music, KORT's goal on their debut album is to take a journey into past traditions in order to make Tidwell's family circle complete. Invariable Heartache does this by (almost) exclusively featuring songs from the Chart catalog. Tidwell got a hard drive of nearly every Chart recording, and she and Wagner both picked their favorites. Chart turned out to be a great treasure chest of songs in that it has traditional country, some R&B, novelty songs, a little gospel, and everything in between. That diversity is just one reason this album works so beautifully.
"Incredibly Lonely" commences the album with a classic country duet that would have worked for either George and Tammy or Gram and Emmylou. Other fantastic duets on the album are "She Came Around Last Night" and "Let's Think About Where We're Going." Wagner and Tidwell treat them all with proper reverence. To show that they can mix it up, the classic, fun-loving duet "Pickin' Wild Mountain Berries" nicely splits the difference between soul (Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson) and country versions (Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn) that have been done in the past.
Wagner takes the lead on "Eyes Look Away" and "April's Fool" showing that he's a fine and unique interpreter of classic country. His voice is a subtle instrument, but it brings weight and sincerity. However, Invariable Heartache belongs to Tidwell. It's wound into her family legacy.
Tidwell gives a gorgeous treatments to "A Special Day" and the torch ballad "Yours Forever" while never leaving the honky tonk as she proves on "He's Only A Memory Away" and "I Can't Sleep With You." The stand out track has to be its final one - "Who's Gonna Love Me Now" - the only non-Chart song in the collection. This song was recorded by Tidwell's mother after she had left Chart for ABC-Dunhill.
Connie Eaton's career never realized its early promise. She later suffered from manic depression and died too early back in 1999. Tidwell fills "Who's Gonna Love Me Now" with incredible emotion. Tidwell's vocals throughout this album never disappoint and attain the highest standard for this year and any year, past or future.
Too often we forget that Nashville was once a town of amazing storytellers, telling stories through song of real people's lives. Invariable Heartache harkens back to the point in Nashville's history before the old era transitioned to the the new era of today. No longer "down from the mountain," the Nashville of the Chart era dealt with the growing south (city living) and its inevitable complications (infidelities, divorce, and loneliness). The poignancy in the music of this era never will die.
We are lucky that there are still artists like Tidwell who can make a direct link to this era, through both family ties and creative vision. She might have only been a child during Chart's era, but she lived through it having had her parents so closely involved with the label.
With Wagner and his fine sensibilities giving the music structure (with the help of some fine playing by William Tyler and Ben Hall) and Tidwell giving it true soul, Invariable Heartache proves that Nashville can still make meaningful country records that keep "family" traditions alive.
- Jim Markel
Bringing Chart Records Back To Life