Sometimes when you go to a concert you get even more than you expected, and that was definitely the case for me in August at Miranda Lambert’s London show when her backing singer and friend Gwen Sebastian stepped out of the shadows to confidently perform a stunning version of her single “Cadillac” . This pensive, moody and bluesy song about dreaming of moving on got a fantastic response from the audience and made me excited to discover what else her forthcoming album had to offer. And I haven’t been disappointed!
Gwen is a seasoned musician and performer who was making music and touring long before she appeared on TV’s “The Voice” in the US back in 2012 which is how her working relationship with Miranda started. “ Once Upon A Time….” is in fact her fifth studio album but only her second since the show, and was produced by her husband. Gwen had a hand in writing all thirteen of the tracks with one being a solo write and three being collaborations with Miranda who, alongside another Pistol Annie, Ashley Monroe, also contributes vocally. As an aside, Gwen and Miranda cowrote three tracks on “ The Weight of These Wings”.
I’m not sure about Gwen’s musical influences (something I will ask in my forthcoming interview for this site) but I’m assuming they are likely to be as varied as the genres that come through in the songs on this album, a mix that includes trad and contemporary country, rock, blues and soul. This melting pot of musical styles has also been present on several of my other favourite country releases this year, such as those from Lee Ann Womack and Whitney Rose. Gwen’s voice is so versatile it adapts effortlessly every time, from the raw edginess of “Ain’t All That Bad ” to the silky, sultry sound of country ballad “Oh Cowboy” she demonstrates emotion, control and a range that is truly impressive, no more so than on the album closer “Way to Go”.
The arrangements vary perfectly to fit the song styles, the more contemporary and rock influenced tracks largely drum-driven with some great guitar solos, and incredible steel playing featuring strongly on the more classic country writes which is evident from the start on the atmospheric and dramatic opening (title) track. Written about her love a “London town born cowboy” who spends his time drinking wine and watching spaghetti westerns and who she’ll stand beside “through the good, the bad and the ugly” it really could be the theme to a Clint Eastwood movie! There’s some beautiful stripped back moments on the songs too, the beginning of the aforementioned “Cadillac “ with its simple piano chords being a great example.
Mid-tempo is as fast paced as the songs get, an observation not a criticism, but most of my album stand-out tracks are to be found among the ballads. I was immediately drawn to “ I’m Not With The Band” which paints a heartbreaking picture of musician’s “ biggest fan”, the wife he leaves behind while touring, the plaintive “ I miss you” outro rips my heart our every time I listen to this one! The there’s “ Losers and Lashes”, a catchy waltz ( single material I feel ) about the dating game, the effort that goes in to looking good and the failed relationships and one night stands that ensue which are “ a girl’s rite of passage”. Lyrically the album scores highly with me in general but this track is particularly clever, lines like being “ a parking lot crier, a rearview mirror makeup reapplier”, “waking up thinking that ain’t my ceiling” and Maybelline even gets a mention (surely that’s worth a lifetime supply of mascara?). And “ Cry To Jackson” is one of the most beautiful songs about moving on and starting over that I’ve ever heard. Punchier than all of these is the blues/rock infused “ Drunk or Stoned” which I can imagine going down particularly well live, about a Southern Alabama mama of five looking for a temporary escape from her mundane life, just like her mama did, the choice being to “ drown it out or send it up in smoke”.
I can’t get enough of this album right now, and I’m surely not the only one keeping my fingers crossed for some headline shows here in the UK in 2018. Another question for my interview…….!!
1. Once Upon A Time In The West
2. Blue Flame
4. Wing And A Feather (feat Ashley Monroe)
5. Love Birds
6. Ain’t All That Bad
7. Cry To Jackson (feat Blu Sanders)
8 Losers and Lashes
10 Oh Cowboy (feat Miranda Lambert)
11.I’m Not With The Band
12. Drunk or Stoned
13. Way To Go
Review written by Lesley Hastings