CHELEY TACKETT, “BUCKEYE”
Produced by Don Kerce
Recorded, mixed and mastered at ANARCHY
The world is weird. Sometimes things come to you in the strangest ways. “Buckeye” by Cheley Tackett landed in my mailbox via one of life’s crazy twists. If I don’t take the time to tell the tale, it would be like ripping out a few pages of a novel. Something would be missing and it would forever drive me to drink, so you’re getting it all, from the beginning.
Back in February, Annette Gibbons and I interviewed Ashley McBryde at CRS 2018. During the interview, I mentioned to Ashley that we had a mutual friend in singer/songwriter Travis Meadows. That led to Ashley telling me that someone named Cheley Tackett was the one who introduced her to the music of Travis Meadows. When I went to write up the Ashley McBryde interview, I looked online to find Cheley Tackett to be sure I was spelling her name correctly. Of course, I started with “Shelley”, “Shelly” and every variation I could beginning with “Sh”. I just wasn’t finding it. I knew she had to be there somewhere. I had to get creative. Maybe it was a “Ch”. There it was! It was “CHeley Tackett!”
When the interview was published and I tweeted it out, I got a tweet back from Cheley Tackett saying she was impressed that I spelled her name right. I laughed and tweeted back that I do my homework. You never want to spell a name wrong if you can help it. She then messaged me asking if I wouldn’t mind if she sent me a copy of her CD. Of course, I accepted that offer and here we are. I was pretty backed up with other things, so it took a few weeks before I actually got to play it, but from the very first few notes I heard I knew I was all about this music.
I think the idea is, I had this crazy good album and I was supposed to review it, send it to thinkcountrymusic.com, get it published and have the world read about it, but I couldn’t wait that long. I listened to the entire CD twice, then I downloaded it so I could share it online and share it with anyone I encountered in person. I wanted to scream about it to the world immediately, and I DID. It’s rare that I get so excited about something that I jump the gun like that, but I wanted people to hear it and I wanted their reactions. You’ll read some of those reactions at the end of this piece.
“Buckeye” is a great album because the liner notes contain enough information to do a comprehensive review, which I truly appreciate. Sometimes you receive a CD from an artist and you get a CD and a sleeve and that’s it. This was the real deal. Album art, songwriter, musician, producer and photographer information, it’s all there. Even as a little girl, I was a liner note geek. I read every last word. Never did I dream that habit would lead to what I do now, but I thank any artist that chooses to include all of these details. It’s not only interesting, it’s highly useful. These liner notes even lead you to Tackett’s website for lyrics. Perfect. You see how good this album is? I’ve spent all this time talking about how I came to “meet” this album and the liner notes and I haven’t even talked about the songs yet?! Just wait.
“Bitter Girl” (Cheley Tackett, Robert K. Wolf) is the first track. Sounds like a downer, right? Good thing I didn’t look at the titles before playing the record, because I would have thought, “Oh wow, should I be drinking while I listen to this?” This is one of those songs that plays tricks on you. A song about a girl that’s really kind of had it with life being, well, life, yet don’t go pouring that whiskey and crying in the corner before you listen. If you’re going to fill a glass, raise it up! This girl may be a little hardened, but she’s dealing. She’s learning to love and forgive and she’s moving on with the help of an amazing group of background vocalists who cheer her on at the end of the song.
I love the next track because it’s pure country music storytelling. “All She Knows Is Rain” (Lisa Carver, Cheley Tackett, Robert K. Wolf) A little girl growing up in a trailer with garbage for parents and life just gets worse. Keeping a good outlook in a world that never seems to cut her a break is hard. The chorus says it all:
“When all you’ve ever known
Is broken glass & dust
You learn to say hello
But goodbye’s all you trust
How’s she s’posed to know not to run away
When all she knows is rain”
Does it ever get better for this girl? It seems we’ll never know, but she keeps pushing through, at least as far as this song goes, but that damned rain…
From pure country storytelling to pure country sound, “$2 Bill” (Mark Stephen Jones, Cheley Tackett) has that slow, sweet acoustic guitar and fiddle. If that wasn’t enough to draw you in, this is the first time where you really hear Tackett’s voice at its finest. It’s stunning. I’ve been sitting here trying to think of another singer to compare her voice to, and I’ve been coming up short. Then it hit me. Tackett sounds, to me, kind of like a mix between Ashley McBryde and Mary Chapin Carpenter, with 70% of that mix going toward the McBryde side. Isn’t that weird? That they would be friends and they have such similar voices? At least in my humble opinion. Not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, yet I’m not saying they sound exactly the same, Tackett definitely has her own sound, it’s just people always ask, “Who does she sound like?” Well, that’s the best I can come up with, and in this song, that’s what I hear.
The song itself, at first, reminded me of the Dierks Bentley song, “I Hold On” (Brett James, Dierks Bentley) which talks about Bentley’s tendency to keep things as long as possible due to sentimental value. The very first verse of “$2 Bill” put my mind on that path right away:
“I’ve got a two dollar bill in my drawer
Granddad gave it to me the day I turned four
So long as it’s there, I’ll never be poor
So I’ve got a two dollar bill in my drawer”
There are other parts of the song that would make you believe this is a woman who can’t let go of her past, whether it’s material possessions or stored memories, but the lyrics have you wondering if she isn’t fighting with herself about that. You’ll have to listen and see for yourself. I went back and forth and thought about it for a while. I find it a fascinating song because I see myself in these lyrics. The music is soft and very, very country.
“The Healer” (Randall Clay, Cheley Tackett) showcases some really cool harmonies with Tackett’s background vocalists and it also makes me add another amazing singer/songwriter to the list of people to compare her voice to. Here, I detected a bit of Melissa Etheridge in her vocals. A little of that soft edge that Etheridge has that I have always been a fan of.
This song isn’t difficult to understand. It’s a straight up comparison tune. We all have choices. We can be hurtful or we can be helpful. We can be aggressors or we can back off. In simple terms, we can be mean or we can be nice, and even if we have an off day, and we’re a jerk, it doesn’t define who we are. We can apologize for losing our minds and go back to being the decent human being we really should be. That’s what I got out of it, and I truly adore it. I think this song should be required listening in schools. Not that every kid will get the message, but if even a few teachers take the time to dissect the lyrics and even a handful of kids remember them and learn to live by them, maybe that handful will grow up to be good and decent adults.
As I was listening to the album I was doing some other things, but Track 5 put me at a dead stop. From the very first note, I had to SIT DOWN. “My Best Dress” (Randall Clay, Ashley McBryde, Cheley Tackett) begins with an acoustic guitar that is so precise and so pretty, I felt like I was sitting at a songwriter round. For someone that can never get enough of songs that tell stories based on history, this wins every prize imaginable because it’s a story set during the Civil War. It’s told from the viewpoint of a woman, and every lyric, every note, is down and dirty and you really feel like you are there, circa 1862, after the Battle of Shiloh, suffering with her.
“Whiskey & Wickedness
He cursed the Bible and my Sunday best
I mourned a child that I never met
And he got blood on my best dress”
It was hard to pick a favorite on this record, but I think this one hit so many targets for me. Instrumentation, vocals, lyrics, the production is amazing, bonus points for pulling a historical period in on the content, what else can I say? It’s an everything song. I’m telling everyone about it, but was it my favorite? Maybe.
If you’ve never been in a “Never Could Leave” relationship, you either haven’t lived song enough, or love’s been very easy on you. Track number 6, as you may have already guessed, is called “Never Could Leave” (Lisa Carver, Ashley McBryde, Cheley Tackett) and it’s what I take as a “I’m throwing my hands up and admitting I’m hooked” song. No matter what they do to you, you keep coming back. They tell you goodbye for the night and somehow, you find excuses to hang around a little longer, and the next thing you know, it’s morning, and you have nobody to blame but yourself. These people have a superpower. They can make seemingly intelligent people that know better in any other situation lose their grip. The singer in this song is the one constantly battling the person wearing the cape that has all the allure. It’s a common theme in the world of love and relationships, the question is why? The sad truth is, there will likely never be a good answer.
In case you have any of that whiskey lying around from our Track 1 celebration, you might want to pour some now, but we’re going to be crying in it this time. One of the saddest songs I’ve heard in a long time is “Heavy Heart” (Cheley Tackett). I can only speculate what may have inspired this, but it had to have been something deeply personal. The lyrics are an almost picturesque look into someone’s breaking heart.
“Had one second of sunshine that second split apart
In the tangle of time I lost who you are
The weight of the world plus a 20 ton ache
How laden does a heart get ‘fore she goes on and breaks”
If it can be beautiful to listen to someone fall apart, this is what it sounds like.
I always enjoy a good cover song on an album, and anyone that knows me well knows I’m a really big Neil Young fan. It was a great surprise to see that Cheley Tackett chose to cover “Ohio” (Neil Young) on “Buckeye”. Sometimes, however, as we all know, cover versions can be disappointing, not so with this one. It packs a punch. Nothing was spared to make sure justice was done. I would say listen to it and decide for yourself. Opinions on covers are always so personal, but as for me, I think this one is a winner, and I think Neil Young would approve.
By the time you reach Track 9, “Crucible Steel” (Ashley McBryde, Cheley Tackett), you’re pretty well-schooled as to why this album is called “Buckeye”. Ohio is called “The Buckeye State”, and along with some direct references to Ohio and some extra reading between the lines, you know this album pays homage to that state. Ohio, along with so many states in the Midwest and Northeast, continue to suffer economically thanks to the loss of industry. One of those industries that went away and hit those regions hardest was big steel. Ironically, the people that live in those areas are known as the hardest workers, yet they’re left swallowing their pride and asking for help from the government just to survive, something they would never do if only their jobs hadn’t disappeared. Much of this song walks in the shoes of these people. Once again, true stories and country gold that sadly, I think too many will relate to. It’s a great piece of music, it’s just unfortunate that it’s got all that reality attached to it.
Every once in a blue moon, a song comes along that’s different. I mean, all songs are DIFFERENT, but an idea that may have been done before, but not that I’ve personally heard. When I listened to “Used to Feel Good” (Cheley Tackett, Robert K. Wolf) while reading the lyrics, I was brought to tears. Not making this up. Tears rolling down my face. This is the song that defines my marriage, at least right now.
I’ve not ever heard a song that takes me back to when we were young and we were great and everything felt good because it was new and fun. That time traveled with me through a rough spot where we were lost and weren’t sure what we were going to do with our lives, then gently placed me in another time and place that’s so different, yet even better than it ever was before. Somehow, the writers of this song did that. Cheley Tackett performed that song to perfection and moved me to tears and it was so cleansing for my soul. I might need to frame these lyrics. What looks like a depressing song isn’t at all. It’s a song about the real world and how it changes, and it can get way better later on, but you have to hang on for dear life sometimes.
“So much has changed
Faster than imagination dreams it up
Look what time and circumstance have done to us…and our love
Ain’t it strange so much has changed”
It’s a simple ballad. I don’t know what else to say about it. It hit me on a personal level, almost as if I had written it myself. I can reveal to you that it is my favorite song on the album, simply because it got inside my life. Our life.
“Magic Still Happens” (Lisa Carver, Stef Mahan, Cheley Tackett) might be the final track on the record, but don’t consider it buried down there. The “magic” is nothing more than kindness and consideration. We all possess the power to be kind and considerate to other people. It isn’t difficult, it doesn’t even have to cost money most of the time. Be the magician. Do something nice for somebody. Hope someone else sees it happen and maybe they’ll get the idea and do the same. We’re all in this together, make a little magic.
Here are some comments from our Think Country readers that have been listening to “Buckeye”:
Robin Beers of Jupiter, Florida: I recently purchased a copy of Cheley Tackett’s new album, “Buckeye”. I have already listened to it several times over. I love each song for the individual writing and messages that Cheley delivers. There is one stand out song that with her clean and crisp vocals, leads me to a special place. That is the track called. “Never Could Leave”. Not only are the melody and lyrics stunning, but the harmonies on it are just enchanting. It is the type of song that is inspiring and relatable. I listen to it and get a different message every time. Perfect for a small intimate performance or a large-scale stage. This song makes you feel like you are sitting next to Cheley, feeling all the emotion along with her as she sings her stories.
Laurie Holloway of Occoquan, Virginia: Hi! I bought “Buckeye” by Cheley Tackett and I simply can’t quit listening to it. “My Best Dress” is haunting and heartbreaking. If our world doesn’t need to hear “The Healer” now, something is wrong. Every song somehow finds its way deep into my soul and heart or makes me reflect. There are no sugary cereal songs here, ones that are gone from your mind before the last note fades. It’s simply a beautifully crafted album written with velvet and steel. Thanks for letting me weigh in!
Kristie Stewart of Indianapolis, Indiana: I unintentionally ran across a Cheley Tackett performance. I was so impressed, I ordered her CD. I she is an amazing singer, but an even better songwriter. Her “Magic Still Happens” song is a song to change lives if one really pays attention to the message.
CHELEY TACKETT can be found: