Fans of female singer-songwriters are going to love discovering Charlottesville-based Nan Macmillan’s first release August and the in Between. She explains that the record marks the passage of time between August 2017 and August 2019. It was a transformative period for her. Leaving Charlottesville, moving to Spain, and then returning to Virginia “to set down roots and figure out who I am.” Records coming at this juncture in one’s life are often special records. And this one is no exception.
Macmillan whose poetry can be found on her website recorded August and the in Between with producer Jay Foote who also plays bass, electric and moog, and a little organ. Grammy-nominated Tyler Chester adds keys, and multi-instrumentalist Anthony LaMarca adds his many talents, including on guitar and drums. Korina Marie (violin) and Augie Fairchild (cello) bring some strings to a couple of songs. Tristen Davenport and Matthew McAllister add harmony vocals. Macmillan wrote all the songs, played acoustic guitar, and recorded the EP at Paperchaser Studio in LA with Ryan Lipman engineering. Orion Faruque at White Star Sound in Charlottesville and Foot in New York provided additional engineering. Steve Vealey mixed it and Heba Kadry handled mastering. The fitting cover design is by Hayoung Emily Yun.
The EP opens with “Rain for the Heavy Heart” with acoustic guitar, keys and an expressive voice that can carry this kind of song, making it feel somehow light and heavy at the same time. Shades of Judy Collins and more distantly Joni Mitchell. It’s the big leagues. “I didn’t come here looking for answers, . . . but” is the key line here. It foreshadows a theme of mixed messages, confusion, and exploration that pervades the EP. And Macmillan is a talented lyricist. This collection of songs cries out for old time liner notes with those beautiful lyrics in an expressive font. She has what looks like hand written lyrics for “Sapling for August” on her website. But I’d like them all.
“Walk the Dog” is a prophetic song given what we are all going through at the moment. But this song wasn’t written about that. It’s a searching song about answers that don’t come easy “so you walk the dog.” Walking the dog serves as the distraction or is the therapy for when people move apart? The B3 organ adds the magic to this one.
“How Many Miles” continues the searching metaphor. By this song, you start to realize how easily Macmillan’s voice stretches out over her lyrics, over the instrumentation, over the warm blanket of a song to reveal (but you have to look and listen) that the place isn’t so safe. Not really. It shouldn’t be anyway. “How many miles do I have to go.” More of that country tinge comes out here. A young Dolly Parton, maybe?
“Sapling for August” is an across the sea song. It’s Valerie for the thinking person. I don’t need answers, she says yet again, but asking so many questions makes that hard to believe. But that self-deception is the important point, I think. “Did you tend the garden?” might not be that far from “did you find a man to fix it for ya?” The difference is that one of them really cares and the other is just longing.
“Apple Trees” closes the EP with an introspective love song. I like the arrangement here as Macmillan takes it from finger picked acoustic, adding a strummed acoustic, keyboard (the Ace Tone maybe), and eventually a violin solo as well as a non-lyrical vocal workout. I’d like to hear more experimentation along these lines. Maybe even something up-tempo. “The street has forgotten the sound the tires on your car make.” How is that possible? When you have to ask yourself that question, you know you have a remarkable lyric. “I won’t even have time to miss you.” No, right, I’m not missing you at all.
You can buy the CD and some cool t-shirts and totes on Nan’s website.