Small Town Talk is a tribute album to Cajun songwriter Bobby Charles. As I’m unfamiliar with the man himself, I don’t have the authority to call McNally’s renditions definitive reinventions. However, given the facts of McNally’s established reputation as a songwriter and of the crack team of musicians (including, among others, Dr. John and Derek Trucks) with which she is working here, I can assert that she is certainly well-equipped to take on his work.
There is a healthy amount of bounciness in the good old New Orleans tradition, but the slowest and the most gentle come across as the most genuine. McNally sounds perfectly at home, and the strong sense of personality required in a good cover version is certainly present. She plays the true lover on “But I Do,” the woman left behind on “I Don’t Want To Know,” wearing desperation just as well as she does romance. The most poignant is the rosy “String Of Hearts,” which finds her dancing in and out with a male vocalist amidst a softly falling piano line and swells of strings. “Homemade Songs,” with its swirls of reverberating guitar and downright sweet lyrics, runs a close second.
There are inevitably some phoned-in arrangements, stylistically predictable and not very memorable when played in succession: “I Spent All My Money,” “Save Me Jesus,” “Smile (So Glad).” But whatever its surroundings, McNally’s tight twang is a valuable asset. On such musically lively tunes as “Can’t Pin A Color,” her vocal style is able to speak to the often-darker lyrical content without sounding either too somber to fit with the music or too jubilant to be taken seriously. Thus, despite its shortcomings, SmallTown Talk is a fitting display of both the legacy of a past songwriter and the reach of a modern talent.