Amy McCarley — “MECO”

ALBUM COVER ART COURTESY OF MECO RECORDS

ALBUM REVIEW

If you are unfamiliar with Amy McCarley and/or her new album “MECO,” I suggest you remedy that situation immediately. This is, from beginning to end, one of the best new releases I’ve heard in a long time, and an early frontrunner for Americana Album of the Year. It has a stellar cast including co-producer Kenny Vaughan (guitar) and Chris Scruggs (percussion) — who, with McCarley (guitar, lead vocals), form the core trio — Marty Stuart (mandolin), Harry Stinson (backing vocals) and Pat Alger, who co-wrote some of the songs with McCarley.

“MECO” is, by turns, as profound as Mary Gauthier, as poetic as John Prine, as melodic as a skylark’s song, as down-home and rootsy as a back porch jam, and as sweet and sultry as a summer night. Whether it’s the affirmation of “Everything Changed” (… “Sun shines through my window/And I’m finally glad it came up again, today”), the fear-facing bravery
of the first single “High Wire” (“A little bird perched on a limb/In a wild storm in the wind/I will sway I will bend/With eyes wide open/And drink it in”) or the honky-tonk lament “Ain’t Life Funny,” the Alabama native’s songs command your attention. Since her last album, “Jet Engines,” Amy McCarley has had, it would seem, five years of highs and lows to fuel what is her most personal, poignant and biographical songwriting, all delivered in a uniquely cadenced alto that sounds like honey-infused whiskey, chased with an endearing hint of Alabama drawl. McCarley gets equal milage out of both emotional swings here.

Fans of Americana and country music should thank their lucky stars McCarley decided to leave life as a NASA contractor to pursue a music career full-time. The namesake acronym of this album stands for a Space Shuttle term (Main Engine Cut Off), and it is entirely apropos. To understand the trajectory of her takeoff, just listen to the evolution of the one song she repeats here from her self-produced 2011 debut. “Everything Changed” could speak to the way her musicality and confidence have grown since then, elevated from a barebones sketch to a masterpiece of self-expression.

Indeed, McCarley’s career relaunch reaches stratospheric heights with “MECO,” and provides enough momentum to, thankfully, keep her orbiting our world for years. This is a powerful calling card in reaffirming a talent who should stand Nashville — and every other music-fostering city — on its ear.