Austin-based singer-songwriter Nichole Wagner delves into matters of the heart, the daily grind, and a little baseball via 10 melodic dispatches on And the Sky Caught Fire, her full-length debut. Her lyrical acumen is deft; she displays a poet’s knack for illuminating the soul. “The Winner Takes All,” which opens the set, is a good example.
With just a few well-placed brushstrokes, she paints a scene that reflects the fading embers of a relationship, or at least the last wisps of an unsettled night. “Too late now, can’t take back what’s been said/And the sky caught fire as the smoke curled around your head.”
“Dynamite,” the second song, is about life in a factory town after the factory’s been shut down: “I can’t see living in a dying town/It’s like I left my soul in the lost and found/Every night I say that tomorrow’s the day/Initiate, detonate, blow it up and walk away.”
Another highlight: “Yellow Butterfly,” about a brief encounter with a winged insect of the nice kind…
“This Kind of Love,” which I’ve shared before, is another gem. Like many of the other songs, it’s about moving on from a failed relationship: “There was a time I was certain you were what I wanted/Then the feeling faded, it left me haunted.”
Her rendition of Warren Zevon’s “Reconsider Me” is another highlight.
“Sparks & Gasoline,” the closing track, may well be my favorite. It’s about a gal and guy who are “more like Stevie and Lindsey than Johnny and June” yet their love is true. “You and me babe, we’ll continue to sing/Our songs are different but they mean the same thing.” (If you listen, you’ll also hear a funny line about designated hitters in baseball.)
If you enjoy country-flavored folk, such as Tift Merritt, Nanci Griffith or Mary Chapin Carpenter, And the Sky Caught Fire is well worth picking up. It’s a keeper.
The track listing:
- Winner Takes All
- Yellow Butterfly
- Rules of Baseball
- The Last Time
- This Kind of Love
- Let Me Know
- Fires of Pompeii
- Reconsider Me
- Sparks & Gasoline
(The album is available from the usual suspects, including Bandcamp, and can be streamed via Apple Music, Spotify or YouTube.)