Always The Outsider, the debut album from the San Diego-born, Nashville-based retro Americana singer-songwriter and classically trained pianist explores metaphysical and supernatural concepts (you know, the usual stuff, alien-earthling romance, past-life trauma) as well as everyday narratives of isolation, disconnectedness, sexual desire and, having described herself as “a foreign exchange student on planet Earth”, feeling like an alien in your own body.
Joined by Doug Pettibone on acoustic and pedal steel, pretty much setting the musical template for what follows she kicks off with the title track finding her at “midnight in Tennessee/Sweatin’ in the herd ‘cause the bar has a broken AC”, the outsider theme there from the get go with her “staring at the backs of the people all circled up tight” and noting it’s a case of her own making (“thought I was too good to play”) and how it’s her own fault “for always being lonely/Always confusing solitude with being free”.
Bringing a jazzy touch, the brief ‘Not Looking For Love’ has her declaring she’s got a “heart like Magellan” and it’s her own choice to be alone (“I’ve just got better things to do with my time”) because, hey, “these songs ain’t gonna write themselves you know” and anyhow, she “can’t take another’s path” before she’s found her own. It might all change tomorrow, of course, but, as it abruptly ends, “not today”.
Eddie Lange sitting in on steel, there’s some outlaw country funkiness to ‘Better Late Than’, a wry commentary on playing the circuit with its “two dollar PBRs/Rhinestones, vintage belt buckles/Walking basslines, Ray Price shuffles” where “a fictitious name gets more gigs for the band” and “you’ve gotta see and be scene” among the posturing wannabe cowboys (“Are you awkward or just an asshole?”), suffering the “Strong cologne, bad requests” and having to “just smile at the rich old men” while “another random man has some career advice for me”. Understandably, she’s had enough.
A final break-up descending scales ballad, ‘Karmic Cord’ (“The karmic cord between us is finally cut/It was brutal but/We’re through”) again has a jazzy polish with electric guitar solo from Paul Sgroi before, Steve Peavey on noirish baritone guitar, she’s ‘Kicking And Screaming’ through another kiss-off (“There’s not enough liquor in the world for you to seem like a good idea again/Is your breath still hot, still stale from the death of a thousand cigarettes”) to “a passing fancy …a good time boy” who fell too hard (“don’t call me a bitch cause you got in too deep”) as she plays the femme fatale.
Pettibone back in action and Ben Moore on Hammond, the M*A*S*H referencing ‘Planetary Heartache’ swoons with a slow shuffle 30s hula lounge feel where the shoes’ on the other foot (“Was I just a fling?/Baby, I’m drowning/You really did a number on me”) as her extra-terrestrial lover takes off back to Mars (which, of course, is where men are from). It’s followed with thematic logic by the twangsome scurrying cheated on ‘Heartbroken Tomorrow’ (“Saw you on the street with my own eyes/Where were you going? And why did you lie?…I hear you on a loop as you confess/That all this time you were hedging your bets”), leaving her, on the mid-tempo, mandolin-flecked, Sandy Denny shaded ‘Absent Captain’, like a ship adrift wanting to be “the rock in the waves” and “not the groundless spray”.
It mounts up for the final lap with ‘Texas Lasts Forever’, a musician on the road song (“Dropped the boys in Phoenix/They’re flying to LA/Now it’s just me, myself & I/The car gets so crowded with all three of us”), her mind constantly plagued by thoughts about the man she’s hoping is waiting for her back home and worrying whether “he’ll be there/When my key turns in the lock”.
‘You Can’t Trust Fate’ offers another romance scenario, as a couple connect in a sweaty bar (“It was meant to be/When they collided at the jukebox/3 times 1 week/2 strangers with their jaws dropped/And Jamo on the rox”) as they “held hands beneath the streetlights” and stayed “in the island of his bed” till past noon only, inevitably, for the day to give the night the brush-off as “destiny turns to dust”.
Always The Outsider ends in fine form with the pedal steel slow waltzing ‘I Talk When I’m Nervous’, a Patsy Cline echoing love song for those who know what’s it’s like to feel awkward and shy around the one they fancy (“I talk when I’m nervous/I drink beer too/But I want to be bold/when I’m around you”), here again given a musician setting (“You’re at the piano your guitar’s in my hand …as you play I keep staring/My heart quickens and slows”), their eyes meeting as she sings “I want to be beneath you tonight”. She may feel an outsider, but I suspect this album is going to open many doors and welcome her in.
Artist’s website: www.stacyantonel.com
‘Kicking And Screaming’ – live: