There we were — just the two of us, chillin’ in the dressing room following a sold-out enormo-dome show somewhere in the Midwest. I’d just served him his after-show dinner when the pontificating, iconic rock star for whom I worked paused from his eggplant entrée to offer me a random slice of personal philosophy. “All we have in life is our reputation,” he said.
What elevated so many traditional country artists of the ’60s and ’70s to enduring legendary status was their reputations as real working-class people. In those days, Nashville’s leading men were often flawed fellas, sharing unfabricated personal stories of loose livin’, fast drinkin’ and doin’ time. Unlike today, female country chart-busters of that era weren’t twiggy spray tan floozies with T-backs and tramp stamps. They were hard-workin’, family-focused, full-figure gals with a feminine font stitched across the front of their full-back hip-huggers. Must be Saturday.
Reputation remained no less paramount to the world of country music in ensuing years. Owning an array of nudie suit jackets, skin-tight denim britches and low-riding cowboy hats, along with lonesome vocals and arsenals of explosive songs, a menagerie of artists earned well-deserved reputations for being “the real deal” when they arrived on the scene throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Then came the 2000s. Controlled by a contingent of less compelling characters, contemporary country music morphed quickly into soulless swill — a homogenized hybrid of hip-hip and electro-pop, splashed with a pitcher of iced sweet tea.
But not all of today’s up-and-comers are digitized snapback hunks in V-necks. Nor are they all computerized woo-girls in belly shirts. Truth be told, there are a great many new country artists with impeccable reputations for making amazing music — they’re just relegated to the underground — buried so far beneath the basement at CMT, it’s tough to find all the bodies. But they ARE there. Thank goodness for Circle — if not for that country music television network, I may never have found Hannah Dasher.
Of all the belles at the ball, Dasher has not (yet) been crowned the “Queen of Country.” However, she just might be the “Princess of Polyester.” And although the native Savannah, Georgia singer/songwriter probably hasn’t actually cultivated 100% of her sky-high doo, her music absolutely IS 100% legit.
In the process of paying her dues, Dasher built important professional relationships and cemented a solid songwriting reputation. After struggling for a spell in Music City, she signed a publishing deal. Then came a recording contract with Sony Music Nashville, followed by a couple of warm-up singles; “Stoned Age” (2018) and “The Tree” (2019). In 2021, she’s released her debut EP, The Half Record.
If you’re a modern-day female country artist pulling pages from the Taylor playbook, you’ll possibly produce some semi-pleasant pabulum. But if you’re attending classes across the tracks, down at the old school, and your teacher is Tanya T. then you’re gonna write tunes with teeth, AND you’re gonna look pretty dang spectacular while you’re doing it. That’s what makes Dasher such a rare treasure — she’s the whole package — gen-u-wine classic country — from her colossal coif to her reliance on Revlon to her retro-style, spangly bellbottom pantsuits, custom-designed by Ashlyn Evans, to her true blue “Hello, Darlin’” drawl. Of course, there’s also her music.
When Dasher is seen perusing a pile of vintage 8-track tapes in the back lounge of her well-preserved, pre-owned tour bus at the tippy of the record’s must-see/must-hear leadoff video single, “You’re Gonna Love Me,” she reveals her honest and pure passion for Smokey and the Bandit era music and lifestyle — a point proven further by the song’s Waylon-inspired, Telecaster-meets-phaser intro. A self-described, “lyric junkie,” Dasher shows the depth of her downhome roots in clever verses that crash into a catchy chorus — My people call me Hannah. H to the Damn to the D!
Peppered perfectly with peddle steel, the opening track, “Leave This Bar,” bursts with authentic honky-tonk imagery and a massive chorus large enough for Dasher to park her papaw’s John Deere. A prime example of what she refers to as her “retro fresh” factor, “Left Right” swaggers over yonder, somewhere between Lorettaville and Tammytown.
The record’s second video single, “Shoes,” is an irresistible breakup ballad and a magnificent example of classic country-style song-crafting — If I was in your shoes baby, I’d come running back to me. The only track without a Dasher co-writing credit, “Girls Call the Shots,” is another top-shelf heartbreaker — Guys buy the drinks, girls call the shots.
Oddly, despite the allure of the record and her undeniable reputation as one of Nashville’s best and brightest young songwriters, Dasher is gaining her greatest traction on TikTok. With bouncy biscuits bursting from the blouses of various Dolly circa ’75 ensembles, her lively Stand by Your Pan video cooking series has garnered Dasher a staggering 1.5 million followers on the popular social media site. And with stats like that, it’s not surprising that Dasher reportedly has a cookbook in the works.
Embracing the time-tested show biz axiom, “always leave ’em wanting more,” Dasher’s EP says what it’s gotta say and gets off the stage in short order — a mere 14-and-a-half minutes, to be precise. A satisfying, moonshine-soaked seduction, it’s concise enough that ya don’t lose concentration, yet (just) long enough to achieve full chub. While it’s hardly a deal-breaker, the songs can get a smidge city-sounding in a spot or two. Finding a fiddle phenom also would have further enhanced the overall savory hillbilly flavor. However, The Half Record is still the tastiest treat to come across my table since my mamaw’s hotcakes back in ’67. And one can only hope that the “suits” at Sony will harness the hipness to release Dasher’s future releases in physical formats — particularly on (colored) vinyl. Or maybe even on 8-track. Just wedge a matchbook in the deck under the cartridge and it’ll play just fine!
The Half Record Track Listing:
1. Leave this Bar (3:14)
2. Left Right (2:55)
3. You’re Gonna Love Me (3:04)
4. Shoes (2:40)
5. Girls Call the Shots (2:32)
Run Time: 14:25
Release Date: July 9, 2021
Record Label: Sony Music Nashville