Tony Clayton-Lea catches up with Kort before they find their roots in Kilkenny,
KURT AND Courtney? Courtney and Kurt? We’ve been here before, brothers and sisters, but this pairing isn’t what you might think. Loud guitars, iconic rock stars, brassy wives and anything smelling remotely of teen spirit are left behind when it comes to Kort: Nashville’s Kurt Wagner and Cortney Tidwell.
Wagner you might know – he’s the head honcho in Lambchop, one of alt.country’s most alt.country groups. As for Tidwell, she’s one of Nashville’s low-key, quirky delights, a singer on the fringes of commercial success and acceptance, but one whose heart remains rooted in legacy and heritage.
The pair had known each other for some time, but only recently, and temporarily, got together to make Invariable Heartache, a collection of songs that were sourced from the 1950s/1960s country-and-western label Chart, which was run by Tidwell’s grandfather. The resulting album is full of oldschool country charm given a dutiful modernist spin, but more crucially it allows “old” Nashville to be heard through fresh ears.
“I think the idea of Nashville,” says Tidwell, “or what people perceive to be the Nashville sound, has changed over the years. Although there are still purists out there like Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris and Loretta Lynn, real country music is somewhat pushed aside in Nashville. I think it’s been a very cool thing to bring these songs and the spirit of them back.”
“It’s what I’ve been about since I started making records here in Nashville – to infuse my ideas with the place I come from,” adds Wagner. “I try to find a way to refer to elements, sounds and notions that make Nashville what it is and, indeed, who I am. Invariable Heartache is just a more direct result. The more direct influence of Nashville can be felt in the choice of material, none of which I wrote. So the roles are inverted, and the things I do with, for example, Lambchop are more in the background.”
Country songwriting at its best is emotionally acute, highly observant and graceful – are these the qualities you wanted to get across?
“We just wanted to be respectful of the material and try to be ourselves at the same
“Country music is about feeling. And what truly makes a country song isn’t just stories for real people – it’s about heartache”