It doesn’t take long to recognize a classic country voice. That’s obvious from the initial listen to Shelly Waters.
After a budding early music career, starting as a pre-teen, life intervened in Shelly’s early twenties. But she has returned to music with a vengeance. On the heels of her critically acclaimed 2014 release Drive, Shelly followed it up with this summer’s new album, the self-titled Shelly Waters.
Shelly has a versatile voice that leans toward classic country a bit. Her songs come across with an honesty that draws upon her Louisiana roots. And the song selection and ordering on this disc provide a showcase of the breadth of country music ground she can ably cover and deliver a satisfying listening journey.
The first song on the new album wowed me right from the start. Indeed, when trying to attract fans (and reviewers), it’s good to lead with strength. And the initial guitar chords of “Drink the Water,” followed quickly by a classic country gravelly wail, signals the gritty country awesomeness of this disc within the first few seconds. Though she’s leading men rather than horses in this song, the title phrase provides a familiar point of reference for the emotional lyrics Shelly delivers with a bluesy country soulfulness.
The slow-to-mid-tempo opener is quickly followed by the uptempo “Red Hot Red,” an energetically rockin’ country boot-scooter.
Shelly showcases the mellow end of her musical spectrum with oh-so-slow, heartfelt ballad “Knew You When,” a tune on which her vocals almost seem to expose a crack in her emotional strength, aligning with the vocals in a way that suggests the singer would love to break down and cry but is maintaining strength. With the added emphasis of slide guitar twang, it’s primo old-fashioned country balladry.
And it’s followed immediately by the more energetic “Time for a Change,” another example of the song placement I referred to earlier. It’s why you listen to albums like Shelly’s in their entirety, beginning-to-end. There’s also some deft, well-placed guitar-picking in this number that helps bring a smile to the listener’s face while the tempo and arrangement suggests a train rolling down the tracks, signifying the unstoppable nature of the lyrics’ decision, whether it’s truly unstoppable or merely an attempt by the song’s subject to convince herself of it.
I’m also fond of the next song pairing. First up is a countrified cover of “Red Red Wine,” full of slow, soulful mellowness. It’s not the “red” but, instead, the “blue, blue heart” from that song that ties nicely into “Nothing Bluer,” another blue tune that, if anything, ratchets up the sadness on the country blues meter. Though, contrary to the song title, it’s an old-fashioned country crooner that’s bursting with Opry and devoid of Bourbon Street.
The rest of the album continues showcasing Shelly’s talent and versatility. While I could touch on a distinctly original point within each of the songs, I’ll mention just two more by name.
“My First Car” could be a modern country hit, in large part because such cleverness often strikes a chord with current country music fans. Though there’s a throwback nature to this song (if not for the gender-specific lyrics, I’d say it sounds like it was written specifically for Marty Stuart), lines like “country girl with a little bit of luck/my first car was a truck” sounds like it could be a companion number to Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” either on the radio or on a cover band’s set list. Oh, they’re not stylistically similar, but the two songs share a symbiotic attitude.
And album-ender “Louisiana Rain” serves as an ideal finale. It twangs sentimentally, coming across with an honesty that can probably only come from a genuine Louisiana girl like Shelly. And such honesty is a great way to close a disc.
I’m glad this disc found its way onto my radar. There’s nothing groundbreaking about Shelly Waters’ self-titled sophomore effort, but it is an emotionally satisfying, exceptionally well-written and performed country music journey, and that’s one of the main reasons we all listen to music, isn’t it? Shelly’s music is more classic than new country, though in the end it’s probably best described as timeless country. If you’re a fan of this kind of country music, then Shelly Waters should be part of your collection, one of your 2017 country music album acquisitions.
Shelly’s website lists a couple upcoming shows, both in Portland, Maine. Tomorrow night, September 9th, Shelly will be at Andy’s Old Port Pub. And on October 18th, she’ll be at The Dogfish Bar & Grille. Keep an eye on her website for additional dates as they’re added. I’ll be checking back regularly to see when she next makes her way down to Boston. – September 8, 2017 by Geoff Wilbur