Mottola wasn’t a friend, or even a family friend. More like a friend of a friend of a friend. But Maggie’s biggest supporter and business partner, Tom Natelli, who had encouraged and nurtured the young songbird’s talent early on, had the chutzpah to ask around until he found someone who knew someone, who knew someone, who lived next door to Tommy. The music executive was impressed enough to encourage Maggie to pursue her music, but since country wasn’t his forte, he equipped the aspiring star with a handful of contacts and enough information to make her way to Nashville. It didn’t take any persuading though. Singing was her dream. She stepped away from Clemson University, where she performed with a Bruce Springsteen cover band, and into her career with encouragement of her parents and Natelli.
Tommy may have knocked on doors, specifically producer James Stroud’s (Willie Nelson, Chris Young, Tim McGraw), but Maggie kicked them down all by herself. And despite the connection to Mottola and the rock cover band experience, she kicked them down country style. Country by choice.
Maggie explains that in her home, she was exposed to an array of musical offerings: “My mom loved certain artists and I think the people she actually played are clearly influences of mine. She loved Bonnie Raitt, Tracy Chapman. She loved the Beatles, which everyone loves the Beatles, but their sense of melody is so strong. And I loved Dixie Chicks. There was a really good mix of music. The fact that I gravitated toward country when there were so many other options shows that’s where I belong. Because it’s not like that’s all I was exposed to, that’s what I wanted to listen to.”
Why? The singer-songwriter smiles and simply says, “You can hear the story.” It’s that mindset and a healthy dose of diligence that kept Maggie in Nashville since the age of 19. Starry-eyed and a bit naïve, her first run at commercial success positioned her as a voice to be heard and gave her a foothold in Music City, but the songs weren’t quite what she needed. Even she admits, “I just wasn’t ready. I think that was the only difference between then and now is that I’m just ready. In fact, I’m chomping at the bit to get this album out. And before, I wasn’t excited about what I had to share yet. I was excited about being able to sing and do what I love, but I wasn’t totally connected to a body of work. I had singles here and there, but that doesn’t make an artist. I wanted to do something that people could latch on to, and I wanted to start a conversation with my music that people could be a part of.”
With iconic country music producers Blake Chancey and James Stroud at the helm, Maggie starts the conversation on Cut To Impress by writing almost half of the songs on the album. The remaining cuts are tunes that she has been performing for the past five years—songs that not only survived her evolution from the young girl, Margaret, to the young woman, Maggie, but became part of her musical make-up.
And they are KILLER tracks. Killer. Yes, there’s a body count on this album. From the flirtatious “Fall Madly In Love With You,” to the musical mini-movie “Looking Back Now,” Maggie shows she has a bit of a dark side, but she doesn’t dwell on it because she has sass, too. From the opening swampy, gospel-tinted track, “Preacher’s Daughter,” to the debut single, “I Ain’t Your Mama,” she reveals a delightful blend of feminine attitude that will empower her female fans and bring the boys to their knees with desire.
It isn’t all serious though. Humor is a tricky maneuver for any recording artist, but in the tongue-in-cheek “Hollywood,” Maggie is guaranteed to capture a grin, giggle or guffaw with clever lyrics like, “Tiny dogs in little bitty purses, cosmos everybody nurses, they get as trashed as we do…”
But give the girl a chance to wail, like she does in “Put Yourself in My Blues,” or the beseeching second single, “Better,” and that’s when you realize what she’s had all along. That’s when you see what brought her to Nashville. Songwriting can be learned, but to be able to convey a heartbreak, to sing a tear, that is a gift. And Maggie’s voice can soar without overpowering the listener. She’s not singing at you, she’s singing to you. She’s making that connection that she so desperately wants to make.
Maggie is committed to this career. Much like her very successful contemporaries, there was never a Plan B. “It even scares me to think about it,” she shudders. “I was lucky and crazy enough to make the move at a pretty young age, so before any serious decision making had to be done—is it this or this?” Even with the disappointments that face any new artist—promises broken, faith rattled, hopes shattered, dreams dashed—Maggie persevered. And she sees now where her experiences hold the promise of longevity. “If I’ve learned this much in five years, 20 years down the road, I’m going to be dangerous. So, I think that music will always be part of my life.”
It’s Maggie’s turn now. Meticulously choosing her album title from a song she co-penned, “Mostly Bad,” is the best representation of where the ingénue is at both musically and emotionally. “That one is a really playful, fun song. ‘Cut to impress’ is a line from the second verse and it jumped out to me because it represents so much about this album. It’s a really confident statement about all the album cuts—play on words. But it’s also that I’ve finally cut out a place for myself as an artist that is unique and real.”
A little good, a little bad, a lot confident and very much intentional. That’s her word. Maggie says, “That has been my keyword for this whole process, ‘intentional.’ I think that everything I do as an artist now should be with a purpose. I think that the way I write should be with intent behind it. It can serve different purposes, but make sure that every word written is intentional.”
|June 7, 2014 10:00 am||CHEVY RIVERFRONT STAGE – Saturday|