Local singer/songwriter Nikki Talley recently released her latest album (her third), Beautiful Charmer and the record does, indeed have many charms. The production, for one, which rightly focuses on Talley’s fine voice and well-crafted lyrics. And the supporting cast, which includes local luminaries like Aaron Price (keys, accordion, guitars), Mike Barnes (electric guitar), Bryan White (bass), Billy Cardine (Dobro), Andy Pond (banjo) …and the list goes on.
The opening (and title) track allows the listener to ease into Talley’s word with slow, finger-style guitar and a hooky chorus sung, sweetly, in her upper register. But from there, Talley flexes her rock muscle with “Santa Fe” which, after a lonesome, harmonica-drenched intro, is all drive and grungy electric guitar, shimmering cymbals, dusty roads and California country reminiscent of The Eagles.
Country is Talley’s forte, albeit with her own twist. “Fugitives” has an outlaw feel with its 2/4 kick and hint of a snarl. (And, despite excellent musicianship, the polished record never veers from its mission to showcase the vocal — an imperative that serves Charmer well.) “Don’t Stand,” “Sing Him Away” and “Is It Wrong” are all variations on a theme: The classic countrified love gone wrong. The first recalls Patsy Kline with the right balance of retro cool and twang juxtaposed with honky tonk piano that never quite tarnishes the song’s sweetness. “Still I’m drunk as hell on his melodies,” Talley sing. The latter has teeth: “Are you kissing your lover on your way out the door or are lonely in some barroom drinking yourself to the floor?” Talley asks of gone-but-not-forgotten beau. The grit-meets-tenderness of the song harkens back to the duets of Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, all pitch-perfect heartbreak.
On “Anna Marie,” Talley varies from form with a waltzy ballad set to jazz percussion. In some ways it’s the album’s most compelling track — perhaps for its immaculate execution, perhaps just because it’s different. But even that mythical turn can’t distract from the fact that where Talley is most at home is on the album’s final cut, “Mountain Outta Me.” That song, as its name hints, is a nose gleefully thumbed at any detractors. The sassy, marching rocker is not just a country anthem (though, should Talley ever want to make her fortunes in mainstream country, this one could feasible be a hit — a more eloquent “Redneck Woman”), it’s Talley’s personal anthem. And — even if you’re not a boots-wearing, line-dancing, whiskey-shooting country music fan — Talley’s pretty-meets-sassy song list makes you want to stomp and fist-pump right along with her.