Country music's first superstars were a family, so it shouldn't be surprising when the daughter of a successful Nashville producer and songwriter chooses to embark on a career in music. What makes Melonie Cannons' first CD release noteworthy comes from the quality and maturity of the music. I can't remember when a freshman outing displayed such polish and self-assured musicality.
In her early teens Melonie sang on her first studio session, and throughout her high school years she regularly sang on studio dates with Sammy Kershaw, John Michael Montgomery, George Jones, and Kenny Chesney. She might have gone on to be a young teenage star, but shortly after graduation she joined the army. After several years in the service she returned to Nashville where she continued to do demo singing as well as helping her father, Buddy Cannon, run his production and publishing companies. Only recently, after meeting Lonesome River Band's Ronnie Bowman, did Melonie seriously consider recording an album of her own and embarking upon a solo career.
Instead of being a country or country pop album Melonie Cannon's first CD has a solid traditional bluegrass feel that seems right at home on Skaggs Family records. Producer Ronnie Bowman enlisted an ensemble of top-shelf bluegrass players including Randy Kohrs, Jerry Douglas, and Rob Ickes on dobro, Dan Tyminski, Jeff White, and Wyatt Rice on guitars, Jesse Cobb on mandolin, Stuart Duncan and Deanie Richardson on fiddle, David Talbot, Elmer Burchett, and Robbie McCoury on banjo, Barry Bales and Mike Anglin on bass, and Tom Roady and Eric Darken on percussion. The ten songs come from many sources, including Kim Fox, Matraca Berg, John Scott Sherrill, Bill Anderson, Leslie Satcher, Ronnie Bowman, and Buddy Cannon. In every case Melonie's performances and Bowman's arrangements result in impeccable renditions that make each song very much her own. The leading cut, "Nothing to Lose," which opens with an arresting dobro lick, sets a bluesy heartfelt tone that continues throughout the entire disc. Melonie Cannon's voice can be beautiful and fresh, yet world-weary. In short she has a perfect bluegrass voice. The last selection, "Nobody Hops a Train Anymore," combines nostalgia with gritty reality in a way that is contemporary yet classic country. While not a sonic blockbuster, the sound here is good enough not to get in the way.
I can only wonder if it's a coincidence that in the past couple of months I've gotten two outstanding CDs from new female bluegrass artists, this one and Alecia Nugent's debut. I can only hope that it's the beginning of a trend that will continue to bring female stars to bluegrass music.