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The Wrights release brief, but beautiful self-titled album

Joe Lawler | Monday, April 28, 2008

How would a young duo of Johnny Cash and June Carter fare in today’s country music world? Or Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris?

That’s the question the young country duo The Wrights pose in their new self-titled album, released Jan. 29. The answer is not yet clear, but husband Adam Wright and wife Shannon’s newest release follows their 2005 debut album “Down This Road” with another collection of beautifully lyricized and harmonized country duets.

The nephew of established country star Alan Jackson, Adam Wright already had an in with the Nashville crowd. Released on Jackson’s personal label ACR, an RCA affiliate, “Down This Road” drew interest from Nashville critics for the couple’s direct and soulful lyrics as well as for their close harmonizations. The lyrics on songs like “Down this Road” and “On the Rocks” displayed an honesty only achieved when the lyricists are in fact partners in love.

Whether it was the lack of over-affected country accents or amped-up guitar riffs, “Down This Road” failed to attract the broad country audience it deserved. Instead of bowing to pressure from record executives to abandon the duet format, water-down lyrics, and overproduce the accompaniment to increase sales, The Wrights left the RCA label to release their second album solely on the indie ACR label. A sparse collection – only eight songs – the album is quick and devastating, with the couple’s lyrical agility and harmonization prowess on full display.

On the opening track, “Rewind,” the couple wastes no time in launching into two-part close harmony. While wistfully hoping to “rewind” their relationship to recapture their passion, Adam and Shannon showcase their improved vocals as well as their sense of the intimate.

The couple ruthlessly interrogates each other in their co-written “Do You Still.” Adam begins the song with leading questions: “Honey are you happy/ That you wear that little ring/ Or is it heavy on your finger/ Is it like a ball and chain?” Shannon joins him for a refrain marked by a classic Wrights contrapuntal turnaround of a wedding vow: “You said ‘I do,’ but do you still?” The slight distortion on Adam’s guitar and the upbeat drum part mark a slight departure from the band’s previous sound, but none of the new effects undercut the pure, old-fashioned country sound Wrights fans expect to hear.

The Wrights’ strongest effort is another introspective duet, “Planting Flowers.” The title is part of the metaphor in the refrain, when the couple lament, ” I’m planting flowers on a gravel road/ Waiting on a bloom/ Trying to make a garden grow/ Where nothing ever grew/ I give you my attention/ Keep you from the cold/ When I might as well be planting flowers on a gravel road.” The harshness of the lovers’ words to each other belies the overall hopeful impression of the song. All couples go through times when they would like to express their frustration in the words of “Planting Flowers,” but, alas, they are unable to do so in soft two-part harmony with major key changes and a delicate steel guitar accompaniment.

One slight blemish on the album is “A Love Like That,” where Shannon forgoes the prominent harmony for a loud and somewhat pounding list of qualities she’s looking for in a man. Also, “True Love is a Golden Ring,” written by Alan Jackson, lacks the sensitivity of the Wrights’ own works and sounds somewhat moralistic in its comparison between the ideals of wedding vows and the reality of love.

Although short, “The Wrights” presents the young couple as worthy of comparison to Cash and Carter, Harris and Parsons and all the great Nashville duos. If only they can be recognized as such, and produce more albums like the two they have.

Contact Joe Lawler at jlawler2@nd.edu