We are living in a golden age of Country Western revival. Artists like Colter Wall, Jamey Johnson, and Margo Price carry on in the spirit of Merle, Willie, and the other greats. Joining their ranks is J. Hatfield, a balladeer from Charleston, WV. His self-titled debut record will be released March 5th. For now, though, he has gifted us with a song of love gone awry with “Maryann,” and today Glide is excited to offer an exclusive premiere.
Opening with a delightful brass section and waltzing rhythm, Hatfield not only makes nods to 70s country but also to the history of Western cinema. The music is evocative of the films of Sergio Leone and the soundtrack work of Ennicio Morricone. Similarly, the brass section evokes comparisons to Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” From the outset of this song, it’s clear that Hatfield knows the tradition he carries on through his music. And, it’s a delightful sonic palette upon which Hatfield weaves a sorrowful, violent tale of revenge.
Hatfield’s voice contains multitudes. In the verses, it’s full of sorrow and pensive anxiety. But in the chorus, Hatfield sounds firm and resolute about his plans to do harm on the man who broke his former lover’s heart. Hatfield sings “he broke your heart and let you down” with the resolve of a person seeking justice; justice for Maryann, and atonement for himself. The second chorus is truly a massive-sounding musical moment, complete with crisp guitars, vivid strings, and haunting harmonies. In many ways, this feels like a return to the roots of country. This is a song about ordinary people searching for answers in a chaotic “wild West.”
With the advent of visual apps like Tik Tok and Instagram, many artists are choosing to think of their work visually and not just sonically. Hatfield’s “Maryann” is truly cinematic in scope. He invites the listener into a landscape of tumbleweeds, dilapidated structures, and riders on horseback. “Maryann” is a revenge story, But, more importantly, it’s a miniature film script in a truly gorgeous sonic package.
Write-up by David Haynes
Listen to “Maryann” below and read an exclusive interview with the artist…
The production choices in “Maryann” really draw on not only Country-Western’s musical tradition, but also the visual tradition of old Westerns. Was that something you had in mind while recording the song?
Generally speaking I believe that it was. I knew going in I wanted the violin to be prevalent in the mix but didn’t really have anything in mind specifically for any of the instruments as far as what they played. Everything you hear were mostly individual decisions. I didn’t give very many instructions because I wanted everyone to put their own style and creativity into what they were playing. And I think we were pretty much all on the same page.
What was the recording process for this song like? It seems like a large crew was needed to get the brass section and strings down.
We recorded the song, and the whole album, piece by piece by Greg McGowan at Rose City Recording Co. in Charleston, West Virginia. We laid the drums down first, then all of my rhythm guitars and then we started pulling in everyone else. Because of scheduling, and because of quarantine at the time, a lot of parts were recorded at the other musicians homes. Evan Olds recorded the upright bass and the bowed bass parts on GarageBand directly into his iPhone for the entire album! Greg and Evan both were able to do some magic and really make that work out well. The banjo and pedal steel was recorded by Travis Egnor in his home studio. Both of those parts are subtle in the mix but I feel like they add so much to the atmosphere of the song. Travis Oliver and Erik Miller tag teamed the drums on this song. The first half of the song in the more chill Parts Erik is playing with brushes and playing more of a straight march. At the end of the second verse when it gets a little heavier it’s then Travis then is playing with sticks and more of a rock feel to the song up until the end where Erik’s brushes take back over during the outro. Justin Puett was able to come in to the studio one day and knock out all of the piano and keys parts. The last piece that we put on the song, and the album in general, was Alasha Al-Qudwah on violin. I always felt this song needed to have that violin in it and her playing style was so perfect for it.
There’s actually no brass on the song! Evan and Alasha really outdid themselves with the strings on the record. Both of them recorded multiple layers for each part so I think at some points you’re hearing 6 string parts but just coming from two people. I’ve worked with Evan on multiple projects and in several bands and I’m very familiar with his writing style and his string parts so I had him record all of the lower register strings first. I knew Alasha would be able to compliment his playing despite the fact that I believe they’ve never played together.
The story of “Maryann” is a story of revenge. What led you to the lyrics?
This is kind of one of those songs that just wrote itself in 30 minutes. The first line that I wrote with the chord progression was “Maryann, why do you go/To the arms of a man who can’t love you so?” and I thought, ok kinda just sounds like unrequited love. But as I kept going it ended up getting darker than that. My personal view on the song is not so much revenge but more of a violent, unrequited love song. But I like that there’s no backstory to the song. So anyone can listen and use their own imagination as to what led to the events in the song.
“Maryann” is from your debut album. How do you feel it fits in with the rest of the songs? ANy sort of preview you want to provide for the record?
I feel there are two main elements to the album. There’s the folk and country side that’s the primary influence but the secondary would be from a lot of post rock and grunge bands. In Maryann, those rock influences come in at the end of the second verse with that big wall of electric guitars. The song on the album the probably leans the most into those post rock inspirations would be Boston, the first single. At its core Boston is a country song but with more ambient rock elements than the others. Greg did an excellent job of combining the sounds in my head into one sound for the whole album.
What’s next for you after this record?
Since it’s not looking like live shows will be back to normal anytime soon I would like to just keep writing and practicing and then spending some more time in the studio and just see what happens. I have a core band of Travis Egnor, Justin Puett, and Tim Dorsey, who also played electric bass on the album. We’re always playing and hashing out new ideas and we’re planning on getting some livestreams going in the near future.
Photo credit: Alexis Faye