There's no doubt that Amy McCarley has one of the more interesting singer-songwriter backgrounds. Her third album is NASA's acronym for Main Engine Cut Off, serving here as a metaphor for McCarley leaving the world of NASA contracting to pursue a career in music. Quite a segue, right? She did have success with her 2014 debut "Jet Engines" and successfully ups the ante in the process with this recording.
Not only can McCarley write songs, sing them and play a mean acoustic guitar, she has an astute sense for musical support. Returning from the previous album are co-producers stellar guitarist Kenny Vaughan and multi-instrumentalist George Bradfute. Superb multi-instrumentalist Chris Scruggs handles the rhythm section and pedal steel. With half of Marty Stuart's Fabulous Superlatives aboard, it seems only fitting that Marty Stuart would add his mandolin to the bluegrass-flavored "Never Can Tell," and Harry Stinson would sing background. Fiddler Kenny Lovelace also joins as well as McCarley's co-writing partner on half these songs, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Pat Alger. As a result, this is a can't miss effort.
The Huntsville Ala. native has a yearning, sultry emotive vocal style that's been compared to Lucinda Williams as has her personal, honest, vulnerable approach. She begins with the autobiographical "Clue," featuring the patented rumbling Vaughan guitar sound. "Clarksdale Blues" is recovery from despair with tasty slide guitar from Bradfute. "Everything Changed" leads in with acoustic guitar chords before the catchy melody and exuberant choruses kick in and the guitars swirl and swell. It's the high of a morning after. Joyful triumph prevails in "High Wire" with gratitude the major theme in "Days."
McCarley sings of desire and want, adding her harmonica to "How You Do," the epitome of blissful, lusty love. Heartbreak is never far behind, captured in the clever lines of "Happy" - Did you ever find happy?/Can you tell me what it was??...For a while I thought you found it us." She makes light of fleeting moments in "Ain't Life Funny" imbued by Lovelace's fiddle. "Farewell Paradise," is a danceable upbeat country closer.
McCarley references building confidence in the liners. After orbiting through several emotional journeys, she's clearly arrived with this most joyous set of songs. In NASA parlance - "The shuttle has landed."