Thursday, May 20, 2010

Chely Wright: Free at Last

Hello everyone and welcome back to Americana Review. I’m writing today about a topic that, to my recollection, has never been discussed before in country music, regardless of the format. If it has been discussed, it’s only been under the rarest of circumstances. I speak of course of the recent “outing” of Chely Wright, her revelation that she is a lesbian. As the media is quick to report, Chely is the first “openly gay” country music singer.
I’ve been a fan of Chely Wright’s since she first debuted on Arista records in 1994. To the best of my recollection, none of the singles from the debut album cracked the country Top 40. Still, this didn’t mean they were bad songs. As anybody in the Americana format will tell you, radio is very fickle. If you step outside the so-called boundaries of the established mainstream country format, you’re not likely to have your music played on mainstream country radio. It was when Chely recorded for MCA Records, under the production of Tony Brown, that the hits came. And then, as suddenly as those hits came to her, they stopped. Chely has since been recording for independent labels, the most recent album released on May 4, Lifted Off The Ground on the famous and well-respected Vanguard label.
Lifted Off The Ground, one might say, is Chely Wright’s “coming out” album, no pun intended. Her first album in 5 years, this album has been released alongside a whirlwind of media attention. Very little of this attention is related to the release of the album, rather it is related to Chely’s revelation that she is gay. This is the first revelation of its kind in country music, and you can tell that because I don’t think anyone really knows what to say. No one really knows what to expect. After all, for a good chunk of the world, homosexuality is a part of the fabric of one’s city. I live in Toronto, which has the second largest gay community in North America, second only to San Francisco. When we’re talking country music in its many facets, we’re talking about something different. While I will love, honour and defend country and Americana music until my last breath, I will also admit it hasn’t always been the most progressive community. After all, this is the format that didn’t show Charley Pride’s face for a long, long time when he broke through in the 1960’s. While Charley Pride was the first African-American singer in country music, it would be nearly 40 years before country would see another African-American country music star in Darius Rucker. So, any fear that Ms. Wright may have had that revealing her homosexuality to the world would have a negative impact on her career, certainly appear to be well founded.
I hope this is not the case. I read an interview that Ms. Wright had with a Canadian press agency online on Tuesday May 18. I’ve included a link to that interview below this entry and I hope you will take the time to read it. As I read the article, a range of emotions washed over me. I can honestly say, my heart goes out to Chely Wright. In the article, Ms. Wright provides stark detail of the torment, conflict and confusion she had dealt with for so many years. She talks about how she knew she was gay from the time she was a child, then going to a corn field near her home to pray to God to make her not be gay. This must have been such a conflict for her as a young child, praying to the same God that she states her church often taught their congregation that God will condemn anyone who is a homosexual to burn in hell for eternity. She talks about the fears she had about what would happen to her country music career if she told anyone about her sexuality, and the struggle she went through to keep it hidden. And, she talks openly about the lowest point in her life, which ended up being the springboard to where she is in her life and her career today. All of this has led to the wonderful and poignant album, Lifted Off The Ground.
I, for one, am proud that Chely Wright is a country music singer, an Americana music singer and a damn good songwriter. What she has done is brave beyond belief. A person can’t help but feel better and be in a better place in life and in spirit with telling the truth about yourself. A truth Chely Wright can be very proud of. If anyone out there is struggling with themselves and who they are, take a look and listen to Chely Wright’s story. If her story helps even one person through their own confusion and struggle, then her story will have served its greater purpose.
I will say though, that I look forward to the day when a singer makes a revelation such as this and it’s met with resounding indifference. The real buzz that should be happening right now should be with respect to the album, Lifted Off The Ground. If you visit Chely Wright’s web site,, under the Albums link you will be able to listen to previews of the songs on the album. I have listened to all of the clips and let me tell you my friends, this is some of the finest, strongest work I have ever heard from any singer in any format. I will be picking up this album for a more studious listen and providing a review on this blog in the coming days. If you have the chance to pick up this album, go to your favourite records store and pick it up, you will love it, I promise. Indeed, it is some of the most personal work one could put on an album. Produced by the great Rodney Crowell, it is Chely Wright’s masterpiece.
I can only hope that in the coming weeks, we begin to hear more about the music from Chely Wright. It would be terrible for an album this great, this perfect, to be completely ignored in favour of what should be of no consequence to anyone, that being her sexuality. It would be a terrible crime, indeed.
To view the Chely Wright interview referred to in today’s blog, click on this link:

That’s all for now friends, take care and we’ll catch up Saturday.

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