Start your search in a nondescript building that houses one of Nashville's many publishing firms. Pass the receptionist and the coffee machine, and head upstairs to the second floor. There you'll find an office where all-day songwriting sessions take place maybe three times a week. Look inside: That blonde with the gleaming smile? The one with the laugh that bubbles every minute or two and the voice that could draw birds down from the trees and A&R cynics back from the bar?
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That's her. That's Amy Dalley.
Maybe you've already seen her before, a few miles away from Music Row and a few years ago, working as a waitress at the Wildhorse Saloon, or coming back to headline at that same venue a while after that. You might have caught her and her band at Toolie's Country in Phoenix, the Hired Hand in Fort Myers, the Cadillac Ranch in Chicago, or other places that hadn't quite heard anything like her before.
If you haven't encountered Amy Dalley yet, though, don't worry. You will, very soon.
And once you hear her slice-of-wry songs, with their sweet, barbed promises to "shut up" so a brainless boyfriend can talk, or their speculations that a friend's new beau may be a "good-lookin' serial killer," you'll never forget them -- or her.
Upon the release of Amy Dalley, her debut for Curb, the sun will probably shine a little brighter, and the world may start whistling a few new melodies. As written and delivered by this Tennessee-bred songbird, Amy Dalley features the kinds of hooks, down-home grooves, and deft wordplay that suggest fresh energy and song-crafting savvy at the same time.
This isn't surprising, since Amy has been making music nearly all of her young life. Born in Kingsport, she grew up in the shadows of the Appalachians near the Virginia state line. No one in her family was especially musical, except for her grandfather, a mysterious figure who died when her mother was twelve. "He used to tour carnivals," Amy remembers. "There are pictures and home movies in the attic of all these girls going crazy as he sang. I guess whatever talent I've got must have come down from him."
When she was old enough to write at all, Amy started writing songs. Like her music today, her first efforts drew from events in her everyday life. Of course, her frame of reference was a little narrower then: "I used to get in trouble when I was in the sixth grade for leaving my curling iron on when I went to school," she grins. "My mom was like, 'You could've burned down the house!' For a week I couldn't curl my hair; that was my punishment. So I wrote about it; I turned that into a song."
Around the time that she authored this lament, Amy made her performing debut, singing "I Honestly Love You" at a school talent show. "I was so nervous," she laughs. "It's weird how you can be so nervous that you'd think you'd never want to do that again. For me, though, it was the opposite, like, 'I've got to do that again. I know I can do better.'"
And she did. Over the next several years Amy performed steadily around Kingsport, singing at weddings and other functions. She even broke into acting during a three-year stretch with the Showboat Theater, culminating in a six-week run as the star in their production of Love, Sex, and the IRS. "It was grueling to do it every night," she admits, "but I learned a lot about how people perceive you when you're onstage."
Eventually Amy enrolled at East Tennessee State University in nearby Johnson City, but after two years she was screaming bored and desperate to get back into the spotlight. News of an open audition for talent at Dollywood, Dolly Parton's theme park, was all she needed to hustle out to Pigeon Forge. After singing a couple of songs, trotting through a few dance steps, and intoning some scripted material, Amy went back home to await the news.
It wasn't good. "When they told me I wasn't hired, I asked them why. They said, 'It's because you're in school, and we need someone to be in a nine-month show.' I'm like, 'Fine, I won't be in school.' 'No, we don't want you to do that.' And I told them, 'You don't understand. I hate school! I'm waiting for a reason to leave … and you're it.'"
At Dollywood Amy worked from three in the afternoon until nine at night with a twelve-person revue. This wasn't enough to satisfy her urge to perform, so after a while she joined a local band that was playing in clubs from 9:30 until two each morning as well. "I sang a song every now and then and played tambourine," she explains. "Basically, I was the hood ornament."
For all the work she was doing, none of it offered the kind of creative outlet that Amy had come to crave. So, beginning in 1994, she started driving into Nashville to sing at open mic nights. Quickly she realized that her future was in Music City, so she bade farewell to Dollywood, moved to Nashville, started waiting tables by day and performing wherever she could. Soon she was able to form her own band, the Gypsy Hillbillies, and take them on the road.
Four years of gigging from coast to coast sharpened Amy's stage chops while also stimulating her to step up her songwriting. Dissatisfied with covering hit tunes, she assembled a set list from her material along with obscure album cuts that somehow spoke to her. When the band had finally run its course and Amy returned to Nashville, she was more than ready to launch her solo career.
The first step was to sign a publishing deal. Jeff Carlton, vice-president and general manager of Hamstein Music, offered one to her after hearing some of her demos. At once her work began to attract attention; with Lee Thomas Miller as her most frequent writing partner, she penned a series of songs that were picked up and recorded by artists such as Martina McBride, Roxie Dean, Amanda Wilson, and Joanna Janét. One of their collaborations with fellow writer Angela Kaset, "Dream Too Small," even made it into an episode of Dawson's Creek: Though Amy had yet to release anything under her own name, the show was deluged with requests from viewers who wanted to know more about who she was and how they could hear more of her.
Inevitably, Amy's road would lead to her own emergence as an artist. "I never set out to write songs for other people," she says. "When somebody would cut one of them, I was always pleasantly surprised and grateful. But I've always written for me. Maybe that's egotistical, but I'm really the only well I have to draw from."
On Amy Dalley that well becomes a fountain of music, overflowing with country-fresh performances served straight up. There's cautionary humor sprinkled through the crackling beat of "Romeo," the wisdom of heartache woven into "Let's Say Goodbye," and an ironic meditation on life's high and low points on "It Is What It Is," as Amy muses that her latest object of interest, a hunk spied in the aisles of Kroger's, is "so GQ he must be gay."
These songs speak in everyday language about concerns we all share, but with a musical touch that's deft, teasing, and wise, all at the same time. Professional songwriter, playful entertainer, gifted vocalist, and down-to-earth observer of worldly foibles: There's something for each of us, whether guy or gal, in Amy Dalley.
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