Don’t Look Back
Distant Voices Music
After playing the first three tracks of Christie McCall’s Don’t Look Back, I was in a state of disbelief that this was her debut release. Possessed of a voice that flows with genuine soulfulness and self-assuredness no matter the song’s mood, tempo, or style, she comes across as a seasoned pro on each track..
Two things worth noting about Don’t Look Back. First and foremost, the perseverance exhibited by McCall in getting this album recorded may set a record. She made her first visit to Imaginary Road Studios way back in 2002. Over the next 20 years, she would return when her life allowed, but (much to her credit) her family (especially raising her two daughters) always came first. This is a testament to not just who she is as an artist, but more importantly, who she is as a person. It’s likely not a coincidence that her deep-rooted and sincere soul flows through each of the ten album’s songs.
The other thing worth noting is patently obvious. To my knowledge, this is the first wholly vocal album that Will Ackerman had ever produced. Now, imagine this…someone of Ackerman’s stature in the industry picked a newcomer singer to be the first of that genre to record at Imaginary Road. I shouldn’t even need to add anything to this review after pointing that out.
While some of the IR Studio usual suspects are present on Don’t Look Back (see full credits below), there are also some who will be new to those who have followed the countless recordings issuing forth from the Vermont studio, including some background vocalists, Jimmy Ryan (mandolin), Pete Adams (pedal steel guitar), Taylor Barefoot (electric guitar), and Forrest Robinson (drums). Christy herself plays piano but only on one track.
As far as categorizing the songs on Don’t Look Back, McCall’s repertoire is varied but within a more limited framework than the word “varied” might infer. For myself, I hear some country-folk, some pure folk, some folk-pop, folk-blues, and maybe even straight up country. All but one of the ten songs are covers and, in fact, these are some of McCall’s favorites. A glance at the songs’ composers gives a hint of the variety: Diane Ziegler, Ellis Paul, Louise Taylor, Marty Balin, Leslie Dowdall, Gregory Douglass, Jesse Colin Young, and John Lee Hooker. When I first played the album all the way through, I heard echoes of artists such as the late Nanci Griffith, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Beth Nielsen Chapman, but those are the dots I connected and, obviously, your mileage may vary.
I won’t critique the lyrical content in depth but most songs have affirming messages or deal with human emotions and the trials and travails that we, as humans, encounter in our lives. Tempo and melodic mood can swing from the gently rocking opener, “Leap of Faith,” to the plaintive and somber “Conversation with a Ghost,” to the cheery upbeat “Coming Up Roses,” and to the power and drama of the most rocking tune on the album, “Darkness.” The one original song, composed by McCall, is “Distant Voices” which begins with a somber opening prelude to become a warm lowkey folk-pop song. Three of the musicians featured on the song contribute a lot to the track’s emotive mood (Jim Ridl on piano, Jill Haley on English horn, and Eugene Friesen on cello).
With a debut as strong as Don’t Look Back, the only question to ask is “Christie, when’s the next one coming out?”
Album produced by Will Ackerman
Mixed and mastered by Tom Eaton
Recorded at Imaginary Road Studios, Windham County, VT
See album liner notes for composers info
David Cullen: Acoustic guitar
Robert Walling: Acoustic guitar, mandolin
Will Ackerman: Electric guitar, backing vocals, Hopi drum
Jeff Pearce: Ambient electric guitar, electric guitar
Jimmy Ryan: Mandolin
T-Bone Wolk: Electric bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, upright acoustic bass, backing vocals
Forrest Robinson: Drums
Derrik Jordan: Percussion, backing vocals
Noah Wilding, Diane Ziegler, Ellis Paul: Backing vocals
Louise Taylor: Acoustic guitar
David Gusakov: Violin
Pete Adams: Pedal steel guitar
Taylor Barefoot: Electric guitar
Eugene Friesen: Cello
Gregory Douglass: Piano
Michael Manring: Fretless bass
Jim Ridl: Piano
Jill Haley: English horn
Christie McCall: Piano