In May of 2009, the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville asked me to do a show in conjunction with their Kitty Wells exhibit, the first time they had presented a solo exhibition dedicated to a female artist. I've been a Kitty Wells fan since childhood, inheriting my regard for her music from my father's family from West Tennessee. I was quick to accept this prestigious invitation.
Sadly, the casual country music fan of today doesn't know Wells’ story beyond “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” the 1952 answer to Hank Thompson's "Wild Side of Life" that has become the short hand sum of her musical legacy -- a reduction that bothers me greatly. I always responded to the fundamental feeling in Wells’ singing, her way of sounding both emotional and restrained at once, as if she were hanging on despite life’s many hardships. As I prepared for the show, I was struck again by her artistry, and the body of work she created in partnership with her husband Johnnie Wright – of Johnnie & Jack and The Tennessee Mountain Boys – and producer Owen Bradley. While assembling a set list of favorites, I included some Wright wrote and recorded with her as well.
My friend Amy Allison joined me in writing an original song, “Kitty Wells Dresses,” our tribute to Kitty, the demure Queen of Country Music. After the Hall of Fame show, I decided to make a recording. It was my first chance to do so in my hometown of Nashville with a great group of musicians dedicated to playing country music with a sense of its own craft and history. I was honored to be in their company as they brought this work to life and I sincerely hope that those of you who find the sounds on this album pleasing will rediscover the beauty and resilience of Kitty Wells and her music.