Any critique of her stage performance has to begin with one undeniable and underlying fact: Cheley Tackett is country music to the core. Not folk, nor Americana or non-descript singer-songwriter, but the epitome of somebody born to strap on a guitar and pour her guts into simple songs, taking the literal rather than metaphorical route. No more than twenty years ago or even less this artist would have a mainstream tag, but in these glistening excessive corporate times of molding female country artists into a model of Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris, the ilk of Cheley Tackett are marginalised – give or take the odd Ashley McBryde breaking through.
The irony of the last name is that Cheley has worked with her in the recent past and she was namechecked during this show alongside others worked with, most notably Randall Clay. He and Cheley worked together on the unifying song ‘The Healer’, one of a select bunch of numbers shared with this Bewdley crowd, no doubt many listening to her for the first time.
Looking back at Cheley’s recording catalogue, releases span almost twenty years with a handful of songs heard this evening including ‘Sky is Falling’, ‘Jerusalem Ridge’ and ‘Fried Chicken’ dating back to a 2005 album. Bringing things up to date, songs from 2017’s BUCKEYE album (a suitable title for an Ohio native) proved popular choices with the aforementioned Clay co-write joined by tracks like ‘$2 Bill’, and two of the three standout moments from the set in the murder ballad ‘My Best Dress’ and the feel good pre-encore number ‘Magic Still Happens’.
The other highlight is a song that means a lot to LGBT activist Cheley Tackett with the ‘Right Side of History’, apart from being a proudly commissioned piece, still raising money for those young people from her community facing serious issues such as homelessness and discrimination. You get the impression that Cheley has had to fight hard to survive in the cutthroat world of Nashville, with the odds on many fronts stacked against her. However, you sense she is no shirker and a brazen confidence and steely persona give her songs a tough coating to transmit profoundly from feisty performer to receptive listener.
Opening the show this evening was the Ryan Sparrow Band, a local Midlands-based four-piece outfit erring on the side of experimental indie rock flushed with a dark moody persona. Ryan Sparrow was seen live playing solo a couple of years ago, but the addition of bass, drums and a rather impressive innovative lead guitarist took his act up several notches. The sound filling the hall from their set was maybe a little different to what regulars are used to on these evenings, and the polar opposite to the single acoustic guitar of the main act. Yet it went down well and spiced up a rounded evening of fine entertainment.
Finesse was probably one word not associated with Cheley Tackett, but we witnessed a thoroughly passionate heart-on-sleeve artist channeling every sinew of her talent into songs that tell the simple story of real life. This is how country music is best represented and artists like Cheley Tackett are worth more than any array of pseudo acts masquerading under a pretense of ‘three chords and the truth’. Music in the Hall took a chance in this booking; Cheley Tackett took a chance in venturing overseas and many audience members took a chance in offering up their Friday evening. All parties were handsomely rewarded.
"Right Side Of History" By Cheley Tackett