Music News & Reviews

Coralee sees the big picture in Townies' debut album

Coralee and the Townies in rehearsal on Tuesday September 2, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Coralee and the Townies in rehearsal on Tuesday September 2, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

Among the gems on the debut Coralee and the Townies album Criminal Pride is a bit of honky tonk bashing called Cautionary Chorus, a tune of smalltown loves, lies and retribution set against as an assured roots-country groove.

Take your pick as to what qualifies as the song's most enticing attribute — the Townies' scholarly command and assimilation of Americana traditions, the cool but scolding command of Coralee's singing or the song's masterful construction which gleefully goes digging for "the nitty gritty from the dirt committee."

Video: Lexington's Coralee and The Townies rehearsing "Bird and A Bee" from the band's new album "Criminal Pride."

"I'm not a very good free speaker," Lexington songstress Coralee says. "I'm not very good at expressing myself freely. I have to sit down and really think things out, which is not always a pleasant thing to do. But a lot of times, that's where the songs come from, it's me trying to work out something that I'm dealing with."

For the past five years, Coralee and the Townies have grown into one of Lexington's top club draws. So it might seem surprising that the band is just now releasing its first album. The reason? Simple: It took three years to make.

"It's the biggest thrill of my life," Coralee says. "I love recording. I love playing live shows. I love playing with the band, but I really love recording. I love the sound engineering and the mixing and all that stuff. I just like the studio as another instrument.

"For me, this is the fulfillment of my vision for these songs — and that's major. Now, even the guys in the band have come to understand the songs in a different way."

Much of the band's reputation stems from sounds rooted in traditional country and honky tonk. But there are also strong currents of vintage R&B within Coralee's robust singing and numerous stylistic accents surrounding the playing of the established Lexington veterans that make up the Townies — keyboardist Lee Carroll (formerly of Exile and The Judds) and drummer David White (an alumnus of the Metropolitan Blues All-Stars) along with such equally practiced Lexington pros as pedal steel ace Fred Sexton, guitarist Smith Donaldson and bassist Scott Wilmoth.

Typical of Criminal Pride's unwillingness to be branded strictly as a country revivalist venture is the album-opening prelude to Night Song, a nocturnal wash of guitar ambience by Sexton and "Out of Townie" guitarist Justin Craig. The sounds were quilted together by Criminal Pride producer Duane Lundy, who also oversaw an initial EP record by the band in 2011, and Coralee, who wrote, co-produced and co-mixed all 11 songs on Criminal Pride.

"You hear a name like Coralee and the Townies and a lot of people associate you with straight country," the singer says. "I wanted people to understand right off the bat that this isn't your traditional country sounding record."

Perhaps the next big question facing Coralee and the Townies is "Now what?" What is expected of the band's new music now that Criminal Pride has found its way to audiences?

"I had to ask myself a lot of really hard questions about what I want out of having the record completed, about what I want for this band and myself," Coralee says. "I guess the ultimate goal is to have the money to be able to make the records that we want to make, to spend time on the road and really make the music a full-time job.

"But ultimately, I want to carve my own path in that regard. I don't want anyone telling us what to do. I think we are a unique band and we all have to do it our way. As long as we can keep making records and keep playing, that's all I really want."

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