Since releasing Bear Hoot, her debut offering with the Dixie Red Delights in 2008, central-Vermont-based songwriter Erin McDermott has set her sights on bigger and better stages. Shuttling back and forth to Nashville, that rhinestone-studded Mecca for Americana artists with commercial ambitions, McDermott aims to bring her full-voiced twang to the masses. On her latest solo effort, the perhaps prophetically titled Time to Go, McDermott proves she’s got the chops and sensibilities to make a go of it on the national stage.
Where Bear Hoot presented a sassy songwriter with a knack for down-home, boot-stomping revelry, Time to Go reveals a deeper, more refined side of McDermott. “Going Home” is a heartfelt ode to road-weary dreamers. McDermott hardly breaks the mold, lyrically. But her efficient wordplay is made more effective by her compelling vocal performance. She’s always been a naturally gifted singer, but her lines here, and throughout the record, showcase a nuanced approach. She coaxes every weeping ounce of emotion from her straightforward prose.
Not that McDermott lacked talent with which to surround herself in the Green Mountains — the Dixie Red Delights featured a number of excellent local players, most notably guitar ace Doug Perkins. But one of the reasons songwriters have long sought their fortunes in Nashville is the city’s overabundance of elite instrumentalists. McDermott has practically enlisted a Who’s Who of Nashville session players on Time to Go, including Rounder Records’ Stuart Duncan on fiddle and cello, Sugar Hill recording artist Bryan Sutton on acoustic guitar, and legendary songwriter Tim O’Brien on backing vocals, to name a few. The results are predictably sparkling.
Without exception, McDermott’s finely expressive performances are framed with immaculate and impeccably played arrangements, especially on album standouts such as the stunning “Truth of Suffering,” “Already Leaving” and the grass-pop barn burner “Louise.” Not to be outdone, local mando whiz Matt Schrag more than holds his own on the title track. Vermont represent.
But the clear star here is McDermott, who walks a fine line between glossy country sheen and down-home Americana grit — doubly tough to do in fancy cowboy boots, mind you. To be sure, there are moments here that tread uncomfortably close to Nashville schmaltz — “Fowler Farm,” for example. But more often than not, McDermott stays true to her roots, suggesting that, sadly enough, it may indeed be time for her to go.
Erin McDermott performs with her trio on Saturday, February 5, at 1/2 Lounge in Burlington.