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Friday, December 23, 2005

Baby, Don't You Like What You See?

If you've been following cool hand bak for any significant amount of time, you've probably noticed that I like to create little traditions here and there as a way of presenting everything I hear. cool hand bak, you see, is a creature of habit, as all beings are. Except maybe even more so. Attention to detail (read: obsessive compulsiveness) is my middle name. If you could see my record shelves, you'd understand. With friends I joke about it, but the truth is it's a quirk I'm proud of, a quality borne out of the extremely high value I place on consistency. For this blog, consistency of structure, theme and content is important, especially in light of the severe lack of consistent posting.

Which is why, for my last post of 2005, I'm doing the same thing I did for my last post of 2004 and the same thing I'll most likely do for my last post of 2006. That's right, today I'm posting my most listened to song of the year. The catch is it isn't a song from this year, since I'll post that later as the best song of 2005. All clear? Well then, here you go:

Heather Waters - "Turn"

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what country music should sound like five years into the 21st century. Heather Waters' voice, on this song, delivers one of the most essential country vocal performances since George Jones picked up a microphone. If you could bottle that voice, you'd have 150 proof liquid heartbreak. Put simply, as Taj Mahal is said to have commented, "that’s some fucking great singing."

"Turn" might begin as your standard relationship-on-the-rocks country song, but that's where its typicality ends. As the vivid loneliness and confusion of the verses (supplied by great use of the titular word) gives way to the resigned accusations of the chorus, emotions reel from excited heartache to calm despair. Redemption comes when Heather reaches into a higher register for the third chorus, arriving at another melody unbelievably even more gut-wrenching than the original. And this time, there is nothing even remotely resembling resignation or calm in her voice; whoever was responsible for her mistreatment (perfectly described in country-eloquence) now comes face to face with her anguish and, as the saying goes, hell hath no fury like a woman burned. All of this occurs over a country hot-bed provided by the likes of Eric Heywood, Don Heffington, Tony Gilkyson and Rami Jaffee, and elsewhere David Rawlings and Gillian Welch chip in too. Somehow, Heather's voice remains untouchably the highlight throughout.

With this one song, Heather Waters throws her hat into the ring with a flourish that's impossible to deny. The rest of the album, her 2004 full-length debut Shadow Of You, may not have a snowball's chance in hell of bettering "Turn", but it's all damn good in its own right, with many other standout moments. The only thing keeping her from seriously challenging the likes of Tift Merritt, Neko Case and Laura Cantrell, at this point, is her relative lack of output; musically and, especially, vocally, she's ready to rival the best of what's going on in country music today. Hopefully, we'll have a follow-up to Shadow Of You before too long, and I won't be surprised if said follow-up warrants Heather a spot on the modern-day country-songbird Mt. Rushmore.

Shadow Of You was independently released on Heather's own Redd Fogg records. Visit her website to for more information and to purchase the album directly. I'm going leave you with these words from Ms. Waters herself: "Townes van Zandt has been credited with saying, 'There are two kinds of songs: blues and zippity do dah.' I definitely don't do zippity do dah."

See you next year folks.

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