Collaborators include Wade Bowen, Jon Dee Graham, Heather Morgan, Owen Temple, Reckless Kelly’s Dave Abeyta and other top Texas artists; Bowen and Wilson duet on co-written “Just Some Things”
AUSTIN, Texas — Jamie Lin Wilson wasn’t planning to carry her third child and first full-fledged solo album, Holidays & Wedding Rings, simultaneously, but if there’s one thing this Texas singer-songwriter has learned from her experiences with the Gougers and the Trishas (and motherhood), it’s that life has a way of going in unexpected directions. And when it does, little bumps in the road (or the belly) wind up making the journey even more special.
Wilson’s son, Thomas Roy, chose to arrive on the birthday of his pre-selected if-it’s-a-boy namesake, her late father-in-law (she and husband Roy like to learn their babies’ sexes the old-fashioned way: at birth). The album, produced by John Ross Silva and Kevin Szymanski, arrives May 19, 2015. Picking up where her 2010 EP, Dirty Blonde Hair, left off, Holidays & Wedding Rings finds Wilson marking milestones large and small in 12 country-leaning Americana tunes, many written with collaborators including Jon Dee Graham, Heather Morgan and Wade Bowen — who also duets on his co-write, “Just Some Things.”
The imagery within these songs is so rich, listening feels almost like flipping through someone’s photo album — one filled with images reflecting the strong bonds of a woman whose roles include daughter, wife, mother, relative and friend. Those relationships fill almost every track, in soul-baring lyrics that touch the heart, yet never overdose on sentimentality.
If we could peek inside a similar history of Wilson’s music-making career, we’d find evidence of a rather fabulous trajectory, though it traces back less than 15 years. Wilson first picked up a guitar during her sophomore year at Texas A&M after watching Natalie Maines do a solo tune during a Dixie Chicks concert. By the time she was a junior, Wilson was writing songs and performing in the Sidehill Gougers, which morphed into the Gougers. (She’d also dumped engineering to study agricultural journalism.) Together, they released two albums and an EP, and toured extensively. They were regulars at MusicFest, the annual music-and-skiing shindig in Steamboat, Colo., where Wilson sometimes played solo as well.
At the 2009 MusicFest, she gigged with the Gougers and harmonized with friends Kelley Mickwee, Liz Foster and Savannah Welch in what was supposed to be a one-off performance in tribute to Savannah’s dad, singer-songwriter Kevin Welch. They so wowed listeners, booking offers immediately flowed in — for a “band” that didn’t have a name until forced to pick one before going onstage. They became the Trishas, in homage to a Welch-penned Trisha Yearwood hit.
Just as she had in college, Wilson, a planner by nature, allowed serendipitous opportunity to take her where it might. The Trishas signed a songwriting deal with Warner/Chappell Music, toured with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Todd Snider, and recorded with Raul Malo, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Savannah’s dad — even before releasing their 2010 EP, They Call Us the Trishas. They also contributed a track to the Grammy-nominated This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark, named Album of the Year at the 2012Americana Honors & Awards.
Wilson also released her solo EP in 2010, and gave birth to her first child, Joanie. She was pregnant with her second, Maggie, when the Trishas released High, Wide & Handsome in 2012; the album earned 4- and 5-star ratings from both critics and fans. For road trips, they bundled babies (including Savannah’s then-newborn) and nannies into a former daycare-center van; along the way, their friendship became a sister-like bond — and built-in support system.
Now operating in a mode Wilson compares to the Flatlanders — four individuals who work separately and together -- The Trishas’ planned back-burner period gave Wilson her window for Holidays & Wedding Rings.
Recorded at Austin’s 12th Street Sound and Cedar Creek Recording, it contains five solo compositions; collaborators on the others also include friends Owen Temple, Jason Eady, Dani Flowers, Adam Hoodand Mike Messick. She’s known Messick since her A&M days, when they were part of a tight-knit group of like-minded musical explorers.
“Everybody just became this little family and now we’re still all family,” she says. Other longtime pals in the fold include drummer/percussionist Silva and bassist Cody Foote, with whom she’s recorded and performed since their Gouger days. They form the album’s core band along with Scott Davis on acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, mandolin and lap steel, and Reckless Kelly’s David Abeyta on electric guitar. Pedal steel player Brian Rung and harmony singers/backing vocalists Courtney Patton, Gordy Quist (the Band of Heathens), Emily Bell and John Evans also contribute to various tracks; Bell and Evans, a couple, lend some spice to the made-for-two-stepping honky-tonker “Nighttime Blues.”
“They know me and the type of music I like to make,” Wilson says of her main band. “Recording with them is so easy and fun, and I can trust them to have killer ideas and to bring it all to the table.”
The type of music she likes to make is, she says, influenced by “the greats” -- Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, Townes van Zandt, John Prine, Rodney Crowell and Tom T. Hall. But it’s equally inspired by those friends and contemporaries, including the Trishas and song-swap pals like Patton,Drew Kennedy and Owen Temple. “Their style creeps into my style and vice versa,” she says. “I love that. We’re a little team.”
With a voice comparable to Amanda Shires’, she’s also a South Texas girl, weaned on classic country,Springsteen and wide-open spaces. A girl who knows the best songs are honest and thoughtfully rendered, whether addressing the complexities of love, marriage and parenthood, or the simple joy of hopping into a vintage Olds Delta 88 for a land-yacht cruise through the small Texas town of D’Hanis, where she lives next door to her mother-in-law in a house her husband’s uncle built. Having grown up in a similar small town, Wilson loves the pace — and the throwback feel of life there. It imbues the twangy “She’ll Take Tonight” and even the banjo-accented “Here Tonight,” written from the perspective of a dying relative.
Even when she mourns the parched landscape in “Seven Year Drought,” her co-write with Graham, Wilson makes it feel somehow personal; when she adds a lonesome harmonica solo, we can practically taste the dryness and dust.
“Whisper on My Skin,” written for her firstborn (and finished just days before the second arrived), actually brought her husband to tears when he first heard it. She was pregnant with No. 2 when she and Bowen, whom she’d first met in Steamboat, began working on “Just Some Things.” By the time they finished the “almost-cheatin’” song, she was carrying No. 3.
“We went over it with a fine-toothed comb, and made sure that every word was exactly what we wanted,” she says. “We knew that it had the potential to be something really cool.” Among its many well-honed lines: It’s like runnin’ for the edge and thinkin’ you’ll fly, knowing damned well that it’s suicide.
Fortunately, her reality is more directly expressed in “Yours and Mine,” an upbeat tune extolling the joys domestic life — regardless of how pressured it sometimes gets. For Wilson, finding resourceful ways to cope is just part of the deal, even if that means listening to album mixes via a chair-perched laptop while soaking in a tub just weeks after giving birth. (Which she did at home, with Trisha sister/doula-in-training Savannah Welch catching the baby before the midwife even arrived.)
Such milestones pave the roads of our lives, marking our memories with moments of celebration and mourning, joy and sorrow, birth and death. It’s the unbroken circle — bigger than all of us, yet small enough to fit around a finger. Or inside a song.
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