While 2020 has been a difficult year for rising country tunesmith Brit Taylor — as it has for many musicians who had to scrap tour, recording and album-release plans — on her remote three-acre farm outside of Nashville, she’s been tallying up the pluses in her life and giving thanks.
“I’ve been out here eight years now, and I’ve got six goats, three dogs, some chickens and a three-legged cat named Loretta, after Loretta Lynn,” says the small-town-Kentucky transplant.
Her new boyfriend, singer Adam Chaffins, sheltering in place with her, contributed bass parts and harmony vocals on “Real Me,” her debut recording issued Nov. 20 on her own label, Cut a Shine (hillbilly slang for a temper tantrum).
“He’s actually on my front porch, writing a song right now,” she adds.
Taylor, though, has a stark yardstick for measuring trouble and strife: 2017, the absolute worst year she suffered through, and so classic-country-song, tear-in-your-beer tragic it was almost comical: “Although it’s not funny when it’s your own life,” she says, sighing. “And it all happened within a span of four months, everything falling apart.”
First, her husband of five years walked out on her, requesting a divorce; second, her best friend and bandmate in the struggling group Triple Run quit the band; third, her computer literally exploded; and fourth, her beloved 12-year-old English bulldog died.
“There was one shimmer of light at that point that I had to be happy about — a scheduled co-write with producer Dave Brainard. But on the way to the session, my car broke down, I couldn’t make it, and I couldn’t use the family AAA card unless my husband was there with me, and we weren’t even communicating at the time. Oh, my God, I was in tears.”
Taylor had heard the horror stories of missed summit meetings with collaborators of Brainard’s stature: You don’t get a second chance. Thankfully, he gave her another shot, and the two got on well and wrote three songs together.
Taylor, who started performing at age 8 in the Junior Pros children’s group in her local Kentucky Opry, inked a songwriting deal with a prominent publishing house upon moving to Music Row. But radio playlists had been changing from the “Fist City”-era Loretta Lynn sound she loved to today’s more knuckleheaded bro-country-isms, so she declined to renew her pending contract option, making her jobless.
“I called Dave and said, ‘I don’t have a publishing deal, I’m divorced and I quit the band. I have no idea what I’m doing with my life, but I’d still like to write with you.’ And I think Dave likes a good country story and a good heartache hook, so he jumped on board,” she says.
Brainard produced “Real Me” and brought Black Keys anchor Dan Auerbach in for several co-writes, including the Dusty Springfield-orchestrated opener “Back in the Fire,” the folksy banjo-acoustic waltz “Raggedy Heart” and the soulful toe-tapper “Love Me Back.”
But it’s the shared Brainard compositions that bring out the latent honky tonk in the dusky singer. In “Married Again” and “Waking Up Ain’t Easy”— over a booming Duane Eddy guitar line — she gauges the depths of the depression that she woke to every morning in 2017 with “Coffee?/Don’t bother filling my cup.”
“I wrote that in November, after I got the final divorce decree,” she says. “The whole year had been hard. You’d have a moment of ‘I can do this! I’m so strong!’ followed by moments of ‘I can’t believe this is happening. My life is over.’ It was this huge rollercoaster of emotions.”
This spitfire might have sputtered, but she soldiered through.
When she was a kid, her father owned a house-cleaning company, where she happily went to work; and back in Kentucky, her equally enterprising brother had launched his own successful version.
“I started cleaning houses to pay my bills, but I ended up getting so many homes that it was time to hire somebody,” says the entrepreneur, whose Service Maids business boasts a staff of eight, ready to spruce up folks’ quarantine surroundings at a moment’s notice.
“Real Time” was completed last December, and several friends warned her not to put it out, given the shaky prospects it could have during the pandemic. Believing that would just make 2020 an even worse year for the music-starved, she decided to release it.
“I’m done waiting for the needle to go back to classic country, just done with the argument,” she says. “So — whatever you want to call it — I just made a record that I love that’s true to who I am, and that’s the best that I can do. So hopefully, it just finds a home wherever it belongs.”