Come to the crossroads, and you can set your soul up for sale.
It’s been done before, most famously in Charlie Worsham’s home state of Mississippi, by blues hero Robert Johnson.
It’s done most every day in Nashville, the music town that has nurtured, bruised, sustained and menaced Worsham’s every dream.
But soul-selling is a tricky deal, and, anyway, it’s a buyer’s market. And so when Worsham came to his crossroads — an intersection exacerbated by a groaning confusion between the fitting in and the setting apart—he took a different approach.
He rose on blue-black winter mornings and opened a Moleskine notebook onto which he had written Tell the Truth. Then he sat there in the dawn and scrawled his conscience. Those morning pages filled, one every morning, and the filling of a page was the easy emptying of a mind that had remained awake and weighted through a young man’s fitful slumber.
A record deal and a radio fate… ill-fitting opening gigs, and glorious headlining engagements seen and heard by too few… the struggle to fit a Berklee School of Music-educated array of un-categorizable virtuosity into contemporary trends and formats… all of that felt different in the morning, there at the crossroads, where there was no need to sell a soul and every need to nourish one.
He wasn’t writing songs - if writing songs were as easy as telling the truth, songwriters would spend each day on a witness stand- he was unlocking, unbending. He was remembering himself.
All that done, he was free to kick ass.
He took the Moleskine to town, gathered with comrades who had worked with him on debut album Rubber Band, and read a few revelations. Having figured out what he had to say, all that was left was to decide how to say it, and how to reveal it.
He turned to a handful of old friends and one new one: Frank Liddell had produced winning albums for Miranda Lambert, Lee Ann Womack and others. Liddell offered advice that Worsham took as directive: To paraphrase, originality is competition’s Kryptonite, and the setting apart transcends the fitting in.
With co-producer Eric Masse and a lean but spectacular core band, Worsham and Liddell entered the studio and created Beginning of Things, a landmark album that uncovers Worsham as the rarest of talents, as Mississippi’s first great new-century musical son, and as a survivor of the highest order.
Beginning of Things lives on contemporary country music’s cutting edge, with echoes from the past that thunder and whirl their way into an electric Southern symphony of guitars, strings, horns, twang, funk, rhythm, smile and snarl. There are moments of nostalgia, but nothing throwback. It’s both a declaration of independence and a celebration of musical community, and it could only have been made by someone with Worsham’s depth and breadth of experience, understanding, and musicality.
“This one’s me,” he says. “I’ve been around long enough now to get why you’re supposed to do what you do, and not do what someone else does.”
Rubber Band was a display of potent promise, but Worsham’s sophomore work is his emergence. It is promise realized, and perspective attained. “Life is a record,” he sings. “Better cut your groove.” And if that record gets dinged in the shuffling, “Part of the charm is the crackle, the pop and the hiss.”
That confusion about the fitting in and the setting apart is resolved. The former is a natural desire and a path to obscurity, while the latter is a hard but thrilling necessity.
Come to the crossroads and you can set your soul up for sale
Or you can write your truth, move along, and offer whimsy, poetry, and melody from the other side.
You can revel in the crackle, the pop and the hiss.
You can walk a rough and rocky road and find yourself at the beginning of things.