Down came a blackbird, set by the fire
Said, 'The future's coming at you
like a freight train
and you're walkin' the wire'
'cause she's gone
your baby's gone..."
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With those words sung in a plaintive wail, Lila McCann enters the country music pantheon as a soothsayer and a young woman on the verge of success. "Down Came A Blackbird" is a power-country surge that sweeps you up in a wave of liquor and late-night accusations and then crashes on shore like the bad marriage it laments.
Direct. Open. Honest past the point of pain. If the future is coming at you, so is Lila McCann. And "Down Came A Blackbird," from her Asylum Records debut, Lila, gives the country a first look at what sets her apart.
"When I first heard the song, I'll be honest, it didn't really make any sense to me," says McCann. "But there's just something about the way the words all come together. I kept singing it. And something happened. I started to understand what it was like to watch two people fall apart. The more you listen, the deeper into it you get."
"Blackbird" not only serves as a powerful introduction for a formidable set of pipes, but the song became a point of convergence for several talented people who've been integral in bringing the Seattle native's dream to fruition.
The song was co-written by Mark Spiro, who's known for his work with such diverse talents as Laura Branigan, Boyz II Men and Julian Lennon. He was so taken with McCann's performance on his song's demo that he decided to explore country music, becoming both McCann's producer and collaborator.
And it was "Blackbird" that galvanized noted theatrical manager Kasey Walker's vision for McCann after so many nights of watching the diminutive vocal sparkplug captivate audiences in small-town Eagles Lodges and neighborhood bars.
"Blackbird" also piqued the interest of Elektra Entertainment Group President and musical catalyst Seymour Stein, who brought the world Madonna, the Pretenders, k.d. lang, Talking Heads and Seal; Asylum Co-President Kyle Lehning, who helped usher in country music's neo-traditionalist movement by producing Randy Travis and the youth movement co-producing Bryan White; A&R consultant Mary Martin, who's managed the Band and Vince Gill and signed Emmylou Harris to Warner Bros. and Aaron Tippin to RCA; and Asylum Co-President/CEO Joe Mansfield, the man who broke both Garth Brooks and Bonnie Raitt.
"It's amazing to me how much these people believe," says McCann without a trace of irony. "But they hear the music and you can see it on their faces. That's cool."
While McCann's unabashedly down-to-earth persona gives her a freshness that's as charming as it is beguiling, it's her voice that draws you in. Equal parts honey and cayenne, her incredible range doesn't just bowl you over with its power as much as it swathes you in the melodies she embraces and the emotions that define her songs.
And that range sets fire to a broad spectrum of material on Lila, from the kick-up-your-heels pluckiness of "Yippy Ky Yay" and the teasing of "Just One Little Kiss" to the aching realization of "Changing Faces," a song McCann co-wrote with Spiro. Throughout her debut, McCann is looking to explore all the emotions that are part of coming of age.
"To me, the songs I've always liked are the ones I've felt -- and I know everybody says that," she demurs. "But I think that while you may have the ability to hit the notes, it doesn't mean you're really singing the song the way it's meant to be sung. And you need to do that.
"Mark and I were trying to find songs that I related to, songs that made sense, because that way I can bring a lot of myself to them instead of just hitting notes."
Indeed, her take on Sheena Easton's Top 5 "Almost Over You" adds a dash of innocence to the song's message of struggling to overcome a broken heart; there's a hopefulness in the face of overwhelming heartache that engages the listener.
Certainly McCann has come a long way from her debut with her father's band at the tender age of 4. Back then, she was a precocious kid who didn't want to be left out of the grown-ups' fun. So boldly, she asked if she could get up and sing.
Her father, a career military man who believes in letting people stretch their limits, initially laughed. Her mother convinced him that their blue-eyed baby girl was serious and he agreed to let her try.
Of course, courage can be a fleeting commodity; when it was time for McCann to sing "You Are My Sunshine" at the local Elks Lodge, she was hiding in the restroom. She had to be coaxed out with the promise of a new Barbie doll to be purchased that very evening (provided she was done with her song before the store closed).
"I was so scared," McCann recalls. "When the people in the audience started clapping I put my hands over my ears and told my dad to make them stop. That's really changed. Now I can't wait to be on stage and I sure don't want them to quit clapping."
In spite of the initial jitters, McCann took to singing and entertaining with an ease that built into a need. She balances her performing schedule with school, equally committed to getting her education as well as chasing her destiny.
From the outer limits of the land of grunge, McCann has grown up and into her talent. And entering the studio with a heart this unencumbered, McCann brings a fearlessness to the songs she sings that makes the emotion behind them burn true.
With the passion of youth, McCann enters the world of country music with her heart on her sleeve and her faith in the power of a song. She has updated the classic country themes of love lost and found with a vitality that ensures country music's traditions will be guarded and reinvigorated long into the 21st century.
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