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Val Storey, Nashville’s Best Kept ‘Secret,’ Talks With Larry Cordle

We can’t stop change in the Nashville cityscape, but we can and must hold on collectively to the soul of Music City as it weaves its way through time and cherished venues. I don’t know anywhere it’s more alive than New Mondays at the Station Inn. Since 2012, when the Time Jumpers moved their weekly residency show to 3rd & Lindsley, the slot’s been held in trust by the front line trio of Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, and Val Storey. It’s country and bluegrass and blues, a genuine expression of the writing, picking and singing that’s exemplified Nashville’s best.

For years, there was a loose plan among the New Mondays musicians to make a supergroup album reflecting the voices and vibes of these shows, but conflicting schedules kept it from happening. Eventually, Cordle and Storey chased a new idea, which came out as Val Storey’s first solo album in more than a decade, called Share Your Secrets With Me. And if we in Nashville are going to protect our country music story, that’s something that should happen with some regularity.

That’s because Val Storey is one of the finest singers any of us have ever heard, a classic voice with the richness and nuance of the greats. As Cordle, who produced the album, said in a joint interview for Episode 257 of The String, “I've had the good fortune to be around a lot of great singers. And Val takes a back seat to none of them,” he says, noting how easy it is to record with her. “Just the looks on people's faces - the session players - they get a different gear when they actually hear (her).”

Storey loves the studio back because she basically grew up in one. Her parents moved to Nashville from Virginia when she was three years old and her father ran one of the city’s earliest home-based recording studios. “I absolutely loved having music in the house all the time. It was busy constantly,” she says. “The first time I heard bluegrass really was in the studio when I was probably about 10 years old. And a bunch of boys came out and after they’d done some of their session work, they were just jamming. This was the first time I'd experienced a bluegrass jam, and they were switching instruments, and I was just absolutely in awe of that. So yeah, it was a really cool way to grow up.”

Val Storey, center, performs weekly with Larry Cordle (L) and Carl Jackson (R) at the Station Inn.
Val Storey, center, performs weekly with Larry Cordle (L) and Carl Jackson (R) at the Station Inn.

Val loved singing as a girl and found her way as a teenager into session work at the house, singing high soprano parts along with the Jordanaires, the iconic male vocal group that graced country and pop hits from the 1950s on. That home studio is also where Val first heard Carl Jackson, stealing sneak peeks at him working on his album Song of the South. When she sought him out on Music Row some time later, Jackson became a champion for her voice and told Cordle about her way back in the early 1990s. But Val Storey, though hearing constantly that she had the voice of a lead singer, pursued a gospel group with her mother and various support roles. And critically, says Cordle, she raised two daughters. Only in 2009 did she release a solo, gospel-focused album, which makes Share Your Secrets With Me her first secular country music release.

Cordle for his part has a classic Nashville story that took off when he asked his boyhood friend Ricky Skaggs if he’d listen to some songs he’d been writing. Skaggs picked up Cordle’s “Highway 40 Blues,” a hit that gave Cordle the impetus to move to town in the 80s. His work has been recorded since by Garth Brooks, Kathy Mattea and Loretta Lynn, always in the hard country or bluegrass. His cheeky co-write with Larry Shell “Murder On Music Row” became a righteous anthem at the dawn of the 21st century and a CMA Song of the Year.

The album they worked up together is a catalog of Val Storey’s love of song, including new material they both worked on, songwriter classics, deep country, and gospel. Opener “Songbird” is a Cordle original inspired by Storey’s nickname and the natural beauty of music. She cuts Nanci Griffith’s delightful and timeless “Love At The Five And Dime” and follows that with the album’s blockbuster, a sweeping string-laden Nashville sound number called “Slow And Sad,” that’s just as emotional as it suggests. In Episode 257 you’ll hear Storey take on Del McCoury’s “I Feel The Blues Moving In” and Emmylou Harris’s “Boulder To Birmingham.”

The new album was made possible by a private patron who’s reportedly in for more releases to come. Storey says another album is already well underway. And not only can you see Storey and Cordle on Monday nights at the Station Inn, Val leads a Sunday Gospel show at the same venue weekly at 3 pm. More about her here.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of <i>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</i>