WHITNEY MANN – The Way Back Home
A lot has already been written about Whitney Mann and her stellar debut recording, The Way back Home. It’s been a while since a musician caused such a ruckus and Mann is surely in a position to walk away with the MAMAs’ New Artist of the Year Award. Mann, who is in her mid-twenties, came to Madison via Rockford from a small town along the Michigan-Indiana border. The girl is country though and through, idolizing Willie Nelson and Conway Twitty, growing up on a steady diet of country legends that also included Dolly Parton. And though the Jenny Lewis comparisons have been bandied about, it may be Nelson’s gift for exquisite melody that is most reflected and makes her so impressive.
With all the accolades directed at Mann’s songs and writing, the quality of this six-song EP’s production has been a bit overlooked. The Way back Home was cut at Post Historic Studio in Milwaukee, the lair of one J. Christopher Hughes and was mixed by the incomparable Justin Perkins, who is no stranger to Madison, spending plenty of time at Smart and working with the cream of the locals including the Blueheels, Blake Thomas and others, as well as the now major-label Wisconsinite Cory Chisel.
I love the sound of this record, especially the drumming of Tim Russell. The sound is so big and resonant. I’ve always been a fan of Mark Haines (the Midwesterners) and Russell’s playing and timbre reminds me a lot of Haines’. The steel guitar is also expertly captured, sounding like sweet teardrops. And through it all shines Mann’s melodies and her pure, bell-tone voice.
There is a maturity in these songs that belies her age and Mann is able to wring the most of concise lyrics like Everyone I meet turns to ash and Draw yourself a bath / Wash yourself of the past from “Call the Cops” a song of resignation that manages to be sweetly uplifting. “I Don’t Believe” is the standout track with one of the more interesting drum mixes I’ve heard in some time. The toms ring with life while Russell employs rim hits rather than the snare drum. Here Mann uses clever phrasing with maximum effectiveness: I don’t believe / That we’re going to last / I don’t believe/ That I’ve ever / Runs so fast / From a man / Who claims to be mine. The song moves from sublime balladry to country swing, to a rousing, almost gospel-like chorus of vocals. The other obvious standout is the beautiful melody that propels “The Fool I’ve Been.” Here Russell’s ride cymbal punctuates Mann’s verse and bassist Kyle Jacobsen provides a backup vocal harmony. “I Said” is similarly charming with a killer lick by steel guitarist Andrew Harrison and Russell using brushes. Harrison adds another dramatic solo to “Why Don’t You Leave,” the steel guitar giving this one a true country authenticity.
Mann can be found at the Alchemy on Thursdays where she takes requests. She prefers to stay in the country vein, naturally, a realm she inhabits with class and style. It’s not surprisingly then that The Way back Home become one of the strongest local releases of the year.