Melonie Cannon

Melonie Cannon

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Singer Melonie Cannon is no stranger to Nash Vegas recording studios. She's been singing in them as a backing vocalist since she was 14, when she got her first credit with maverick Dean Dillon. Since that time, the daughter of legend songwriter and session maestro Buddy Cannon has been racking them up with front-line artists like Shania Twain, Sammy Kershaw, and Chely Wright. Given most of that roster, one would expect Cannon's self-titled debut to be full of slick production and a boatload of scripted-for-the-charts tunes written by flavor-of-the-month studio songwriters. But that's not the case. Not even close. Cannon's album is one of the most original things to come down the pike since the Dixie Chicks' debut so many years ago. Issued on Skaggs Family Records, this set is completely acoustic. There isn't an electric guitar on the entire thing and the percussion is organic. Yeah, that means standup basses, unvarnished fiddles, banjos, mandolins, Dobros, and guitars. But this is no throwback to the country days of yore. Cannon's truly amazing voice -- while coming firmly out of the tradition that gave listeners Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Lynn Anderson -- is the instrument of a modern singer. She doesn't straddle the line between the past and the present; she struts it with confidence, grace, and plenty of soul to boot. There are tinges of tough, high lonesome bluegrass, honky tonk, and modern country flourish, all of them coming off authentic. Featuring songs by her dad, Kim Fox, John Scott Sherrill, Ronnie Bowman, and the great Matraca Berg, this set is solid, inside out. Her delivery is never hurried or overly strident. There are no histrionics employed to stress the emotion in a song. Instead, Cannon just sings them, with a finesse that is uncanny and a plaintive honesty that communicates the writer's narrative intent without unnecessary flash. Whether it's in a love song like "What Took You So Long," with its shimmering mandolins and slow, languid fiddles, a floor crasher like "Nothing to Lose," or an open country pastoral like Berg's "Tennessee Road," the effect is the same: that of a singer fully committed to the song. Other standouts include the bluegrass-wrangled country of "Westbound Trains" and the heartbreakingly beautiful paean to amorous devotion, "Sweeter Than Sugarcane," offering solid proof of how gifted Sherrill is as a songwriter. The true hinge piece of the album is Bill Anderson's folksy yet devastating "Whiskey Lullaby." Cannon delivers this wrenching lyric with restless soul, singing as if in disbelief that its tragedy could occur. This is one of those debut records that point to the sky as the limit, where anything can happen and should.

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