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Cheley Tackett’s THE LAST LIVE Is Grand Farewell Gift To Nashville’s Iconic Douglas Corner

REVIEW: The Last Live by Cheley Tackett (Independent/May 21, 2021)

Photo courtesy of Cheley Tackett/PLA Media

It’s the world’s epicenter for creating and performing music. Nashville, Tennessee, the city where great singers are a dime a dozen. You hear so many outstanding voices that you become accustomed to them. You travel elsewhere, hear live music, and know you’re not in Music City anymore. The bar is just set higher in most Nashville venues, but even in a city saturated with incredible voices, there are a few that rise above the rest. Way above. When you hear Cheley Tackett sing, you can’t help but listen and that’s that. She has a voice that will stop you in your tracks. It’s all-consuming and immensely powerful, yet she makes it appear effortless. Whether you’re hearing her live or listening to her records, the clarity in her impassioned alto vocals is always there. It’s just always right there.

Photo credit: Katie Kessel of Roaring Frog Photography

If anyone was supposed to be the last artist to record a live album at Nashville’s iconic Douglas Corner, it had to be Cheley Tackett. I’m convinced of it. If you’ve ever been to Douglas Corner you know it wasn’t anything special to look at. It was the textbook example of a “dive bar” or a “hole in the wall.” It wasn’t big. It was dark and the bar was small. You could wait a while to get a drink on a crowded night, but these were things people overlooked because they weren’t important. What mattered was the music, and the music was good. More than that, Douglas Corner was one of those venues that held an extraordinary amount of history within its walls.

Photo courtesy of douglascorner.com

To understand the significance of recording the last live record at Douglas Corner, you have to know a little bit about the venue and its background. Douglas Corner officially closed its doors May 30, 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. A sad day for Nashville to be sure. Mervin Louque partnered with Rick Martin and opened the venue in 1987 as a viable music showcase room. Many artists performed their label showcases at Douglas Corner, including Blake Shelton, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, John Berry and more.

Photo of Mervin Louque courtesy of douglascorner.com

Keith Whitley shot his video for “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” at Douglas Corner. Other videos were filmed there as well. The bar was home to countless artists as they worked their way up the ladder to success. People like Faith Hill, Jamie O’Neal, Deana Carter and others. Major acts such as Kim Carnes, Neil Diamond, Cheap Trick and Jon Bon Jovi have performed there. This is a venue teeming with musical memories. It can’t and won’t ever be forgotten.

The man behind Douglas Corner and the recording of Cheley Tackett’s album, The Last Live, is no slouch. Mervin Louque wasn’t just some guy who bought a bar. Not by any stretch of the imagination. His resume goes on for miles. He’s worked as a recording engineer on an endless list of noteworthy projects. He’s recorded tours for The Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, Journey, Olivia Newton John, Bob Seger, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson and that’s the very short list. He’s recorded shows for Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Judas Priest, Bette Midler, Heart, Harry Chapin, Kenny Rogers, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Dottie West, Dave Brubeck, Glen Campbell and The Beach Boys to name just a few.

His album credits include artists such as The Kinks, Kenny Loggins and Barbara Mandrell. I’m just touching on a few things Louque has done over his career, and he’s not done yet. Oh, and he’s worked on this new album by Cheley Tackett. The one this review is about, because I’ve listened to it. Not only that, I was actually at the show that it was recorded at. I’ve heard this whole show in-person and digitally. I think that gives me a good handle on how to review it. Better than any record I’ve ever reviewed before, that’s for sure.

Every year on her birthday (which falls on August 24th in case you’d care to send her a card), Cheley Tackett throws a birthday bash, complete with a concert. It’s a birthday party for herself, but fans find it to be a gift for them as well. There’s nothing better than a live show from Cheley Tackett. On August 24, 2019, the birthday bash was held at Nashville’s Douglas Corner. It was a solo, acoustic show, which is never a problem with Tackett. She holds her own quite well. All she needs is her guitar and her voice, because between the two, she’s got more than enough sound to keep everyone’s attention. You can ask any fan, they’ll tell you I’m right about that.

Photo taken at Douglas Corner August 24, 2019 by Bill McClintic of 90 East Photography

This particular show was a little different though. Rather than work off a pre-determined set list, Tackett chose the songs she wanted to sing, wrote them all down and cut them up into little pieces of paper and threw them in a bag. She had random audience members pick a song out of that bag. Whatever song got picked, that’s what she sang next. If it made sense, great. If it seemed “out of order,” oh, well. It was a lot of fun. You never knew what would happen. Would we end up with a string of ballads that went on forever? Would it be a hot and heavy love song followed by a murder song? It was anyone’s guess. I think more artists should try this.

As it turned out, things started off just the way I believe they were supposed to – with laughter. You see, Cheley Tackett doesn’t just have a big singing voice, she has the best laugh you’ll ever hear. If she’s laughing, so is everyone else. Not only that, she has an intelligent sense of humor and the timing of a professional comedienne. The first song chosen from the bag of tracks was called “Up Here.” Quite possibly one of Cheley’s most heart-tugging songs, penned by Tackett herself and Lisa Christian. To introduce the number, Tackett tells the crowd, “The Universe has an incredible sense of humor.”

Right from the very first note Tackett plays on her guitar, you can hear all the years of experience Mervin Louque has in the recording industry. Sink into your couch with a glass of wine while listening and you’ll almost forget it’s a live album at times. Brilliant engineering coupled with Tackett’s sparkling vocals and it’s as if you’re right there next to her on stage. While track one isn’t your average upbeat opening song, it sure does draw you right in.

Photo credit: Katie Kessel of Roaring Frog Photography

“Play the One I Like” first appeared on Cheley Tackett’s 2005 Here album and is a fan favorite. A piano ballad on the recorded version, it translates well to the acoustic stage. It was the second song chosen for the live show and it isn’t hard to hear the love for it when Tackett asks the crowd to help her out with the chorus. I think everyone in the room sang along.

“Where the guy gets the girl

And they take on the world

With nothing but their hopes and their dreams

By the second verse for better or worse

She promises that she’ll never leave

Just for that moment it’ll make me feel alright

So could you play the one I like”

Tackett took a moment to explain to her live audience that she comes from a large extended family. Her grandfather was a steel worker so it wasn’t like he had piles of money to give out for birthdays and Christmas, but Tackett could always count on a brand new two-dollar bill on those occasions. That’s where the idea behind “$2 Bill” originated. Co-written with Mark Stephen Jones, this is another of Tackett’s slow ones, but it’s one that hits home for anyone that has a penchant for sentimental objects. It isn’t the monetary value of those two-dollar bills, and if you really pay attention, which isn’t difficult because Tackett can tell a story better than almost anyone, you’ll realize that. Tackett takes this simple ballad to the limit by stretching her remarkable vocals to the heavens. The guitar strings personified seem to be along for the journey, tagging alongside to hear her story and sweetly accompanying her as shares memories of a long-held gift.

It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention the fact that I do know Cheley Tackett. That doesn’t prevent me from being honest, however, and I assure you, I am being perfectly unbiased here. My opinion is what it is. The next track, “Big Hair,” was co-written by Cheley Tackett, Ashley McBryde and Nicole Witt. As Tackett introduced the song, she mentions that she had to talk McBryde and Witt into writing it. Apparently the idea wasn’t all that well-received at first. The end result, however, is one of those songs you just don’t forget.

Do you live in the south? Have you ever? I’ve lived here for about seven years now, so I’m still relatively new to it, but I’ve been here long enough that I’m beginning to understand “southernisms.” Things that you just don’t see and hear up north. “Big Hair” is full of “southernisms” and it’s a fun fest, over the best Kentucky bourbon you’ve ever had, on a night you barely remember. Guaranteed. Even Tackett couldn’t suppress a laugh as she began singing it. Listen for it. Making the best of Tackett’s straight-shootin’, rich alto vocals, this is always a crowd favorite. What makes it even better is trying to keep up, because it moves quick and there’s a lot going on here. The main character is busy. It’s a scary thought that this song almost didn’t get written.

“She knows who pays by the hour at the Budget Motel

That’s the reason Mr. Feeney just landed in jail”

I can’t say enough about this song and the lyrics. It’s amazing what three female songwriters can come up with when they get rolling.

“Ain’t a fact she can’t misrepresent

Makes gossip look like an Olympic event”

That one gave the crowd at Douglas Corner a little craziness, and the next one isn’t wild with hilarity, but Tackett injected some humor into the introduction. I’d be ruining it if I told you what she said, but trust me, it’s pure Tackett. Pay attention. “I Like You a Little Drunk,” was co-written by the late songwriting genius, Randall Clay and Tackett herself. Date night with your special someone might include a few delicious umbrella drinks, which lead to feelings that get warmer and fuzzier with each passing umbrella. Some things just get better when you spike ’em. Add this song to the list.

Photo credit: Katie Kessel of Roaring Frog Photography

I’d suggest you really put your radar on high for Tackett’s next song introduction. The story she tells is gold star material, made better because it’s true. Just don’t be drinking anything because you’ll probably spit it out all over the place. The introduction contrasts sharply with the song itself, “Jerusalem Ridge.” One of Tackett’s self-penned numbers, “Jerusalem Ridge” has a gospel flavor and hearing it once will give you all the reasons why this artist isn’t like all the others. In the original studio version, fiddles open the song, with the distinctly country sound of mandolin weaved throughout. Beautiful lyrics and perfect harmonies create something I’d be willing to listen to in church, but would prefer to hear in my earphones, where I could completely immerse myself in its exquisiteness.

Imagine a song as stunning as that stripped down to an acoustic guitar and a singer, yet it moves you just the same, perhaps even more. That’s what happens when Cheley Tackett performs “Jerusalem Ridge” on The Last Live. The fiddles and the mandolin vanish, but Tackett brings it anyway. Her versatile voice compensates for those missing instruments in all the right places. This is gospel for those of us who never thought we could listen to gospel. My advice? Listen to the original, then listen to the live version. The studio track hit all the marks, it’s as perfect as can be. The live acoustic version didn’t need all that jazz. All it needed was a guitar and a singer that can belt it out, someone like Cheley Tackett.

Next up was “When We Knew It All,” another one Tackett wrote by herself. It was the title track off an album from 2001. Seems like forever ago, but the song still holds up and always will. A reflective tune about days gone by. Youth sure is funny. You have no realization of just how short a time you’ve been a member of this Earth, yet you feel invincible and you’re sure you know a lot more than people who actually do. Parents, teachers, they couldn’t tell us anything. We had it all figured out. We can laugh about it now, but boy, we sure knew it all. It was a different time and in many ways, it can seem like we were completely different people all those years ago. There’s beauty in the universal theme of this one. Just about anyone can relate to it. Tackett delivers it convincingly and emotionally.

Photo credit: Katie Kessel of Roaring Frog Photography

Swinging the pendulum back to something heavier, we move on to “Homegrown.” Tackett wrote this one about her dad and her grandfather, both blue collar workers from Ohio. It could have been a slow, quiet ballad, dedicated to these hardworking family members, but Tackett opted to drive the song’s message home with a lot more force. If you ask me she gave it just what it deserved. Granddad was a steelworker, that was backbreaking stuff. Dad fought in Vietnam, was severely wounded in war and earned a Purple Heart. These were two tough American-made men and she makes sure listeners understand that. The song can be found on her 2005 Here album where it’s pretty tricked out and one of my favorites, but this live version scored a million points. Every lyric seems to be sung with enormous pride in these members of her family tree. A million bonus points for guitar bravado. Appalachia has another anthem that most of its residents don’t even know about. Start telling your friends. This live version will have them waving American flags in the streets.

“Daddy joined up no one forced his hand

Shipped out to fight in Vietnam

Come back a Purple Heart

a forever changed man

But he still loves Uncle Sam

My Daddy he’s homegrown

Proud, flag-wavin patriot son

This heartland’s backbone

Homegrown

Perseverin’, God-fearin’ America’s own”

Do I go there or don’t I? That is the question. You know what? I do, and on this record, Cheley Tackett herself addresses the situation and to fully understand what she’s talking about, people need to know why she says what she does. She can kill me later if I’ve crossed a line, but somehow, I doubt she will. Grab a drink, this might take a minute.

Randall Clay. A song craftsman. Someone that could write a song about everything from murder to Styrofoam, and did. Also a very close friend of Cheley Tackett. He also had strong political views that landed about a football field’s distance away from Tackett’s, yet they remained friends. That’s how real friends are in my opinion. Politics need to take a backseat to so many other commonalities. As I move to the next paragraph, it will seem as though I’ve lost my train of thought. I haven’t. Just stay with me for a minute.

Do you remember the PULSE nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida? In June of 2016, a 29-year old man entered PULSE, a gay club in Orlando and started shooting. A total of 59 people, including the shooter, died in the incident and another 58 were injured, 53 by gunfire and five by other causes. Some were injured critically. It was the deadliest incident of violence against LGBTQ people in the history of the United States. It was horrific. Anyone with a heart was deeply saddened by this tragic event. Those in the LGBT community were especially affected and with good reason. They’ve been fighting the good fight for so long, just to be able to live their lives, and when something like this happens, it’s as though they’ve lost another battle in the worst imaginable way.

Cheley Tackett, part of the LGBTQ community and “out” for a long time now, took that tragedy hard. Days after the PULSE shooting, she had a co-write scheduled with Randall Clay. Remember now, they’re politically quite different. Clay came to the write with a song idea and when Tackett saw it she had to push it away, saying she wasn’t ready yet. Obviously it had something to do with the PULSE tragedy. She needed time to process everything. Clay may have been a political opposite, but he wasn’t completely heartless either. Thankfully, Tackett gave his idea a chance and what transpired actually ended up being one of the most eloquent, thought-provoking songs in her catalog to date. “The Healer” has become a standard in just about every show she does. It’s qualifies as a ballad, but it’s more than that. It isn’t preachy, but it gives the listener the opportunity to remember that every action has a consequence.

“Reached out hand

Thrown fist

A hard word, a blown kiss

Dream maker, sleep stealer

You can be the breaker or the healer”

Somebody had to do it. Somebody had to pick “Fried Chicken” out of that bag of songs eventually. Now was the time. If there’s time for it, it always gets “the story.” The Douglas Corner show was no different and you’ll hear it on the album. I won’t wreck it by telling it to you. If you’re an avid Cheley Tackett fan, you know it already. Don’t spoil it for anyone just coming on board. Another one that Tackett generally plays at most every show, this is a catchy little tune she co-wrote with Lisa Christian. It’s a fun one that showcases Tackett’s ability to get down and dirty on her guitar and dig deep into those gritty power notes she does like nobody else. I’ve never heard of anyone that doesn’t love “Fried Chicken.” Well, yeah, actually I guess I have. Moving on…

Photo taken at Douglas Corner August 24, 2019 by Bill McClintic of 90 East Photography

Think of the greatest love songs ever recorded. I bet you can come up with a list pretty quickly. I bet many of you would have some of the same songs on your lists. If you’re a Cheley Tackett fan, you might even have this one on it. If you’re just joining “Team Tackett,” take a listen to this one on The Last Live and tell me if you think it should be on that list. Co-written by Lisa Carver, Steff Mahan and Cheley Tackett, “Save Yourself” (it first appeared on 2010’s Whisper Me Slow album) will grab your heart like a corkscrew and keep on twisting it until the very last scorching note. Songwriting at its finest ignited with passion when Tackett sings it live. She was on her absolute A-game when it was recorded for this album. Smoker or not, you may need a cigarette after this.

Red Lane was one of country music’s greatest songwriters. He wrote hits for Tammy Wynette, George Strait and Merle Haggard and many other legendary artists. He was also the guy that helped first get Cheley Tackett attention from the music industry when he met her at the Flora-Bama nightclub. He heard her play and fell in love with “Feelin’ A Little Lonely,” a song Tackett wrote alone. One thing Tackett will always remember about him is the “Stay clever” he’d add to the end of every email he wrote to her. Lane passed away in 2015.

“Feelin’ A Little Lonely” first showed up on her When We Knew It All album back in 2001. It’s a ballad about a lonely soul riddled with guilt for not staying in contact with an old friend for a long time. This lonely soul finally picks up the phone and realizes said old friend is in a time zone an hour ahead, which adds to her guilt. Did she call too late? Loneliness can be rough. Tackett’s ability to convey the varied emotions in this number is impressive. Lonesomeness, guilt, regret – all nailed. Her normal power vocals turned down in order to superbly deliver the lyrics the way they’re being felt. Throw in the fact that this was recorded live and you might never know it. It’s sounds that good. Red Lane fell in love with this song for a reason. It’s just sad he isn’t around to hear it on this project, he’d be really proud.

Here we go. Another one of those full-disclosure moments. I’m telling you because I care. Or maybe it’s because it’s the right thing to do. My first encounter with Cheley Tackett was reviewing her 2017 Buckeye album. I didn’t know her at all. I didn’t know any of her music at the time. I was listening to the record and liking it, but the track that made me stop what I was doing and totally made me take notice of her as an artist was “My Best Dress.” It nearly took my breath away. It had every element I ever dreamed of in the perfect song. I won’t go into it here, but if you’d care to read my thoughts on it, here’s the link to that review https://thinkcountrymusic.com/whats-new/cheley-tackett/ It’s still my personal favorite for a plethora of reasons, some that hold from that first time hearing it, others that have become more personal, but yes, it’s one I love. Make no mistake though, it’s dark.

The song was co-written by Cheley Tackett, Ashley McBryde and Randall Clay. It’s been said many times that nobody could write a murder song better than Randall Clay. Sadly, he’s passed away now so the best killing songs may have gone with him, but we’re all fortunate that “My Best Dress” came around before Randall Clay left this Earthly plane. It’s really something. On the original version, you get the “window dressing.” The instrumentation that adds to the song’s haunting nature, but on the live version, you still get every bit of what counts, and that’s the story. Tackett tells it just like it happened to her. Set long ago during the mid-1800’s, with historic references and masterful storytelling, you’ll almost feel yourself inside it. Only the most skilled writers could conjure this up and only the most commanding vocalist could bring you to the scene of this somber tale. Listen to it on The Last Live and then listen on Buckeye. It’s a stroke of genius.

The second-to-last song on the record is another of Tackett’s own. “Good For Me” is all about knowing the things that ultimately harm us, but indulging in them anyway. Coming from the recesses of deep melancholia, you feel this weighing heavily on Tackett as she once again takes us right out of the room and into the story. A struggle between what feels good and what might kill you. This one stings a little even as it remains camouflaged by hypnotic vocals. Among Cheley Tackett’s best work and one of her hidden gems.

The final song of the evening was “Penny Wishes,” yet another that Cheley Tackett wrote by herself. While it wasn’t a “big finish,” meaning it wasn’t one of her most well-known songs, or a lively singalong type of number, it certainly ended the show on the right note. “Penny Wishes” is a real country song that’s all about the story. It’s one that’s made for listening rooms and songwriter rounds. It’s for fans of serious music. Not the ones that go to bars to party and listen to music in the background, but real lovers of the songs that the songwriters work so hard on. Tackett and her guitar sound luminous on this last track.

It may not have been the very last show at Douglas Corner, but it was the final show recorded live and captured for future generations to enjoy. Had Mervin Louque known the club’s fate in advance, he might have planned a large event, complete with major acts. If he’d had a crystal ball and known what was coming, something like that might have been the last live event recorded at that iconic venue, but often times, things happen for a reason. After listening to The Last Live by Cheley Tackett, I believe everything happened exactly as intended. It was the perfect Swan Song.

Keep up with Cheley Tackett on her website at https://cheleytackett.com/

Image courtesy of Cheley Tackett/PLA Media

Image courtesy of Cheley Tackett/PLA Media

For more news, reviews, interviews and features that always bring country closer, please visit http://thinkcountrymusic.com

Featured photo courtesy of: Cheley Tackett/PLA Media

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Patti McClintic
I'm Patti. Rock music is my first love. Country came later, but once I was in, I was all in. I'm a history geek, so I love learning about classic country and anything attached to it. You might find me strolling the cemeteries of Nashville, having silent conversations with the songwriters and artists that shaped this amazing genre. I'm an amateur genealogist with over 20,000 people on my family tree. I'm a Buffalo, New York girl living in a Nashville, Tennessee world with my husband and my furry kids. My real kid is an adult and lives in New York with her own three daughters. I'm addicted to SongPop and I don't care to enter rehab to fix that. If you ask me about myself, I'll tell you I have an eight-year old mind, a 77-year old soul and a middle-aged body. I'm a mess. :)
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