Artist of the Week: Cortney Tidwell

Music Features Cortney Tidwell
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Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.
Fun Fact: Her father is a corporate shill on Music Row, working for Reba McEntire’s Starstruck Group.
Why She's Worth Watching: Tidwell sounds like Björk's long-lost cousin from the Ozarks.
For Fans Of: Cat Power, Leslie Feist, Mazzy Star

Cortney Tidwell’s mother ran herself ragged trying to plaster her face on the cover of Country Weekly.

“She had a lot of high expectations,” Tidwell says with a hint of resignation in her voice. “I mean, she would come flat-out and say it: ‘I want to be a star.’"

But it wasn’t meant to be for the elder Tidwell, and for years, her now 33-year-old daughter would cower from the music industry’s harsh glare. As the senior Tidwell descended into manic depression and a slow death in 1999, Cortney was eventually prodded into action. The music that she denied for so long would become part of her very survival.

Somber songs about her mother's unraveling and best friend's suicide first came in droplets, but eventually poured forth from Tidwell. “I write songs when I feel dark and there’s no way out,” she once said in an interview. Her debut EP was an exercise in just this sort of human anguish—a fragile study of a woman pushed to the brink. Although it’s the territory of many country traditionalists, Tidwell’s sound remains far from it.

Tidwell grew up in the smoke-filled Music Row offices of family friend, Cowboy Jack Clement, but her songs, complete with electro buzzes and swirling orchestration, feel quite removed from Clement's whiskey-coated lullabies. In fact, she found an unlikely alliance in Nashville chamber-pop collective, Lambchop, a group that dabbed a fresh coat of other-worldly transcendence into Tidwell’s Southern gothic roots. It was Lambchop that provided the creative spark for her proper full-length, Don’t Let the Stars Keep Us Tangled.

The album has gained steady acclaim among music critics across the pond with MOJO throwing hyperbolic adjectives such as “dizzying” and “exhilarating” towards its songs. But her biggest critic may very well be her father, the one who answers to Reba McEntire.

“He doesn’t understand [my music], but he’s very supportive of me, you know?” Tidwell says with a laugh.