A step back. Nancy singing in high school garages, not the girlfriend, but the frontman. Nancy rocking in Dallas bars, not quite Joplin redux, but close enough. Nancy earning her stripes at Chicago open mikes, the same training camps that produced the likes of John Prine, Steve Goodman and Bonnie Koloc.
And again back to now. Nancy Walker came to Colorado fully formed. In Chicago, she had been a linchpin in the quirky, quite successful Sons of the Never Wrong, contributing her vocals and writing to the band’s best known album, “Consequence of Speech,” before stepping out on her own. Through that project she met husband and musical partner Larry Clyman, whose guitar and production work has become an important element in her sound. Her sound? A little Joni Mitchell. A little Buffy Saint-Marie. A little Patsy Cline. All Nancy Walker. The world becomes a little clearer in the mirror of Nancy’s voice.
Where all that peripateticism has paid of is in the songs. “Quecreek was Water,” from Nancy’s shimmering “Layers of Rust and Time,” is the coal miner’s equivalent of James Keelaghan’s classic “Cold Missouri Waters” – a mesmerizing narrative, a true story, a tale for the ages. “When You Go Down There,” from grant funded, community-centered “True Colors,” is a visit to the local beauty shop, in actual time, and you are there, too. And “Did You Know John” is a stunning and tender portrait of one woman’s walk into twilight.
Onstage, alone, or with her supple, responsive trio, Nancy is the focus of the room. That feeling, that depth of knowledge and experience, allows her to inhabit every song, whether it’s singing for the souls of miners or recalling her Old Town School of Folk Music roots with “Corinna, Corinna,” a hoary chestnut that comes alive again in her voice and in her heart.
Craftsmanship. That’s the American way too. And Nancy Walker has been there and is still doing that. That’s how you earn a NSYCA grant. That’s how you bring so many hopefuls to a songwriting workshop. And that’s how you make the songs that make everyone listen.
Nancy Walker’s the real thing.
Photo Credit: Andrzej Pilarczyk