The list of comparisons thrown at Cortney Tidwell is a who’s who of indie singer-songwriters and legendary icons of eccentric female pop. She’s been called a freak folk Mazzy Star, a female David Berman (Silver Jews), and my personal favorite, a “synthesis of Mary Margaret O’Hara, Mama Cass and Björk.” The list goes on, the need for finding an accurate reference point becoming increasingly ridiculous with each entry. But it’s hard not to chime in with more after hearing her full-length debut Don’t Let The Stars Keep Us Tangled Up. Her sound is unique and mesmerizing, but it sounds oddly familiar, and who, exactly, she reminds you of may be hard to place.
Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Tidwell’s heritage is that of country music; her father is an industry man himself, her grandfather performed at the Grand Ole Opry in the ’50s, and her late mother had a successful career in the ’70s. Tidwell may have inherited the family songwriting talent, but her sound is a far cry from that of Nashville’s country greats. She’s a dreamy, ethereal songwriter, one whose songs range from shoegazer pop to baroque folk to electronic curiosities that are as intriguing as they are accessible. Tidwell’s voice is sweet and otherworldly, a heavenly delight that bathes each of her songs in an astral glow.
That there is not one defining sound to Tidwell’s music makes it that much more exciting a listen. Each song is like a completely different environment, and as one comes to a close, a door at the end leads to a new one, with completely different colors and light, climate and terrain. Opening track “Eyes Are at the Billions” begins slowly and strangely, its delicate melody turning into a swirling, noisy monsoon by the end. “Pictures on the Sidewalk” has a much more straightforward folk sound, with Tidwell’s voice bearing a resemblance to that of The Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler (see…now I’m doing it). Electronic waves envelop “Missing Link,” a catchy, electro-pop song that could only be described as soul-gazer for its mixture of gauzy sonic waves and deep, soulful vocals.
“I Do Not Notice” is awash in a synth glow, which colors an otherwise sparse and naked track, Tidwell’s vocals layered in a strange and Björk-like approach. “Lala” is another catchy and simple gem, acoustic guitar flirting with electric, making for a gorgeous combination. The title track is the centerpiece of the album, and the longest on the record, a seven-minute foray beginning with sputtering electronic drums and atmospheric vocals, soon spilling into a cinematic, orchestral epic. It’s a gorgeous thing indeed.
Listening to Cortney Tidwell, I’m not so much reminded of just one artist as I am a combination of many, and thus I sympathize with those who try to put their finger on it, because damn if her sound isn’t a haunting one. For myself, I can merely say that she’s a magical, talented musician and songwriter, one whose sound enchants and enraptures and will place the listener in his own personal nirvana. But I don’t think she sounds much like Mama Cass.
My Brightest Diamond – Bring Me The Workhorse
Mazzy Star – So Tonight That I Might See
Björk – Homogenic
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.