Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Brett Allen
Everything about the way that Cortney Tidwell writes and sings creates a rambling setting of fertile fields, groves of maple trees, verdant hills and valleys over which our eyes openly roll like reels. There are the covered wooden bridges that she writes into the landscape and then there are the rivers that we're crossing over on those bridges. They run red. They run thick as paint, a deep, red hue that would take hours to swim from one side to the other, sticking to your arms, filling your mouth like an unwanted gravy, dragging you down to the unlit bottoms. It's this red river that seems to be the life of Tidwell's majestic dissections of the ways that people try to keep going on with themselves even in the face of all that is rugged and kicking. It's music that makes you sense that someone needs help, that someone's below the surface of that water, struggling to get up to the top to catch another breath or two of vital air, if only to be allowed to throw on a little more struggle and see what happens after that.
It's music loaded with the fibers of the breaking points that one can never expect or plan ahead for. One minute, everything is just fine and the next, no part of what you're doing or who you are is easy. Everything around you gets complicated and that's when everything goes haywire and you begin sinking. Walking through a hospital lobby the other day in Ann Arbor, I heard a woman who looked like she hadn't slept in days, talking on her cell phone as she passed, sounding as if she were at the end of her rope, saying, "Everything in my life is just on hold right now." It was expressed in an exasperated way, with a little anger in her voice. It was a form of disbelief and a projection of the cruelty of the fates when they want to break you down and test what you've got in them bones of yours. Tidwell writes songs that are fully formed mini-dramas about people who are fighting tooth and arrow, in valiant attempts to keep things as together as possible, to at least survive to struggle a little more, just to see if there are clear skies out there around the next bend.