What makes Tanya Savory’s Rounder debut such a fine record — in many ways as refreshing as Iris DeMent’s Infamous Angel or Gillian Welch’s Revival — is the unfailing intelligence and attentiveness of her songwriting.
Savory is a Kentuckian whose work has been covered by bluegrassers such as Pam Gadd and Dale Anne Bradley, and whose storytelling combines a long, patient view of life with understated yet memorable melodic hooks. The pretty, flowing acoustic conversations — frequently involving piano, cello, acoustic guitar and dobro — recall Kate Wolf’s ’70s recordings, especially when bluegrass veteran Wanda Vick’s fiddle and dobro ripple around Savory’s mature, bracing voice, widening out the emotions rather than weighing them down.
Each song, in its own way, becomes a love song: love of small towns, traveling, nature, family, youthful days in a deceptive and seductive “grace of immortality.” Savory is literate, but without pretension; her landscapes and characters are vivid, almost documentary, and reveal a wisdom that comes with time.
In her best songs, Savory skillfully reshapes and inverts some common conceits of Americana, sharpening them with details that would be lost to lesser visions. Take “Big Town”, in which a traveler tries to find “where [her] father’s land was,” but encounters only desolation: “It was a big town, became a small town/And now my home town is no town at all/And what was Main, is dust and rain/Broken window panes in the old town hall/It was big town, now it ain’t no town at all.”
The tightness and precision are notable: no wasted words, no easy exits, and the language is so naturally rhythmic it seems to carry melody with it, even on the page. Some may see Savory’s music as lightweight folkie fare, but in her songs, tenderness and toughness do not cancel each other out: They flow together from the deeply felt and generously observed life running through every song.