WEST VIRGINIA (LOOTPRESS) – Last week, Bridgeport, WV singer/songwriter Annie Neeley released her latest full length project Big Old Moon which features a diverse blend of styles including country, bluegrass, gospel, americana, and roots music.
Big Old Moon is a satisfying breath of fresh, mountain air in which each note rings of folks who not only understand the nuances of the form, but who have undergone their own processes of self-discovery within the culture that informs it artistically. The West Virginia native has been immersed in music essentially her entire life, first developing her chops in choir as a child where she established her rich vocal tone which approximates both the power of a howling wind through the mountain trees and the subtlety of a delicate breeze atop a still lake. Neely learned the ins and outs of vocal arrangement and technique early on through intense study of The Beatles’ catalogue, before packing up and heading to Nashville where she would spend 16 years exploring its vibrant music scene. It was during her time there that she recorded her debut album, 2010’s Cold Heart Blues. Since her return to the mountain state, Neeley and husband/collaborator Dave Kirkpatrick have worked extensively within a tight-knit community of local musicians, many of which contributed to Big Old Moon. Among those involved in the creation of the record are Oak Hill multi-instrumentalist Randy Gilkey, producer/guitarist Bud Carroll, drummer/percussionist Ammed Solomon, and guitarist Travis Egnor. The album artwork was designed by Hello June singer/songwriter Sarah Rudy of Morgantown.
Arriving as a more traditional alternative to the pop-oriented country currently dominating the airwaves, Big Old Moon creates a personal experience, enthralling the listener in down-home harmonies that make them feel as though they are fireside with the band on a hot summer night. The distinct quality of Neeley’s vocals evoke nostalgia for a simpler, yet more substantial time, the fullness in tone not dissimilar to that of Loretta Lynn during her fantastic 1970s run. Despite the antiquated musical framework of the album, Neeley is very much looking forward on this record, as demonstrated on “Past and Gone” which sees her exploring the idea of nostalgia and its potential to mitigate objectivity, as well as how the sacrifice of one’s own forward trajectory in the pursuit of comforts of the past can leave a person feeling empty and remorseful. Similarly, the assured stomp of the title track implores reflection upon and appreciation for what it is one has, rather than the frivolous pursuit of what stands to be gained. In the album’s exploration of days gone by, a clear caveat is extended to reiterate that the aim should be not to live in the past, but to honor what is gone by adapting what is applicable and instilling those values in the manifestation of a more desirable future.
Lyrically the songs pull back layers to deconstruct the characters within them, conducting analysis not just on the bullet points of these folks’ lives, but also on their day-to-day routines which often provide an even greater understanding of just how they got to be the way they are. One prominent example is “Old Scratch” which touches upon the plight of the coal miner sacrificing to support his family, a frequently explored trope within the genre. But Neeley manages not only to avoid treading water with tired cliches, with lyrics like “Down in that hole, it’s dark and it’s lonely. A lifetime digging in darkness breaks the body and tortures the soul” she endows the subject matter with a lucid profundity perhaps not heard since Johnny Cash performed “Dark as the Dungeon” at Folsom Prison in 1968. It isn’t all steel guitars and blue-collar anecdotes, however. The band are given some room to stretch out on cuts like “We Rise” with its funky, r&b-infused groove, and “Sweet Love” on which the immensely accomplished Randy Gilkey unleashes a number blistering gospel piano licks over a swinging rhythm track.
Much the same as the hills of West Virginia themselves, Big Old Moon appears to be more an exploration of perspective rather than of geography specifically. It isn’t just about the mountains themselves, it is about the people who grew up and raised families of their own within those mountains. The songs here are representative of community, with tracks like “We Rise” and “Augusta” touching upon the common struggles which unite us, and the discernible value that lies in that which we often take for granted. This is how Big Old Moon succeeds where so many other records fall flat: it is representative of the people of Appalachia, not just the idea of Appalachia. In coming to understand the significance of the people who make up these wonderful places, one can begin to grasp just what it is that makes this music so special. Big Old Moon is available for purchase and streaming on Spotify, and for purchase/streaming at