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Summer Dean, Who Traded Teaching For Twanging, Wraps Finally Friday

Scott Slusher Photography
Summer Dean

We all have the freedom to remake ourselves, in theory anyway, but not everyone has the fortitude or resilience to make it happen. The music of Summer Dean offers us a window on and a soundtrack for the mid-life metamorphosis of a rancher’s daughter and a schoolteacher into one of the most exciting new voices in traditional country music. The 43-year-old Texan is touring in support of her acclaimed sophomore album, and she’ll cap off a trio of fascinating females set to usher in your weekend on Finally Friday this week.

Summer Dean grew up north of Dallas and dabbled in music but didn’t see it as her life’s purpose. She had a strong sense though, as she tells it, that whatever her aim was, it was not the small town expectation of marriage, kids and a home-bound life. In fact track one of her debut album in 2021 finds her “kicking down that picket fence” and offering a manifesto of her pride in chasing truth in country music as she roars into mid-life on her own. Critics and listeners responded really well to that album, Bad Romantic, especially its honky tonk duet with Colter Wall “You’re Lucky She’s Lonely.” A connection with Texas star Bruce Robison led to sessions for his Next Waltz label at his Bunker studio in Lockhart, TX, leading to the 13-song album The Biggest Life, which came out in June.

With her life experience comes a settled-in feeling and a confident vulnerability that manifests as relatable heartbreak, wistful longing and worldly wise humor, as in “Bailing Wire,” a tour de force of detail only a rancher could know. The closer “Lonely Girl’s Lament” is stunningly intimate and bittersweet. But apparently she and her denim textured voice can get rambunctious in a dance hall as well, all part of a package that secured her this year’s female honky tonker of the year at Dale Watson’s Memphis-based Ameripolitan Awards. “These past few years have taught me that we’re all more capable than we give ourselves credit for,” Dean told Cowboys & Indians magazine. “We can all surprise ourselves, which has been an amazing thing to figure out at 43.”

Starting out our noontime buffet of roots music will be Rachael Davis, one of my favorite vocal artists in Nashville. Raised in a folk music family in rural northern Michigan, she got her career going in Boston where she became known for blending that city’s singer-songwriter vibe with an empathy for classic jazz in the vein of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. Rachael last joined WMOT at a wonderful Wired In where she joined a round of excellent songwriters and played her banjo, one of her many instruments, and offered up her song “Sweetwater Sea” with such grace that I grabbed the tape to include on our Old Fashioned show. And that reminds me of her most recent recording as part of the folk supergroup Sweet Water Warblers with Lindsay Lou and May Earlewine. But you can dip into her catalog anywhere and find magic.

Rachael will be followed by Washington, DC-based songwriter and guitar playerLauren Calve, who’s on a transition journey of her own, from visual artist to musician. She told the Bluegrass Situation: “After I finish writing and recording a collection of songs, I usually go through a kind-of sensory transition from auditory to visual. For instance, after I finished my forthcoming album Shift, I painted a self-portrait incorporating the imagery from Shift for my album cover in the style of surrealist painter Rene Magritte. For me, creating art to accompany my releases enriches the experience of making music.” The title single from the album - due Sept. 1 - is wonderful, a psychedelic swirl with a fat beat and evocations of tectonic plates and other massive natural forces. I hear echoes of Alanis and Sheryl. We’re eager to hear more.

The music starts at noon, and as always the party is open to the public and broadcast live on the air.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org