There’s an old saying about how “you have your whole life to write your first record.” For Coco Hames, the songs on her stunning self-titled debut poured from her pen over a sustained burst of inspiration… but they took more than a decade to live out. The ten tracks here evince Hames’ uncanny ability to distill the most painful or complicated situations into precise pop. A deeply personal record filled with poignant ruminations on love lost and found, dreams dashed then rediscovered, these are songs that manage to pinpoint exquisite light amid life’s darkness.
Though it’s the first album released under her name, Hames is no wide-eyed ingénue. As the singer, songwriter, frontwoman, and indomitable force behind beloved garage-pop combo The Ettes, she blazed a memorable trail across the ’00s underground. The proverbial “little band that could,” the group would record five critically acclaimed albums, establish a fervent international fan base, and tour extensively with everyone from Kings of Leon to the Go-Go’s, the Black Keys to the Dead Weather. Leading a gypsy existence, the Ettes variously called Los Angeles, London, Berlin and Madrid home, before finally settling in Nashville in 2008.
Armed with a batch of new material and a deal with Merge Records, Hames began work on her solo album in the summer of 2016. “It was this massive leap of faith for me,” she admits. “After being in a band for so long, this time I was on my own—no gang to hide behind or fall back on.”
Hunkering down at Nashville’s The Bomb Shelter studio, Hames co-produced the record with Andrija Tokic, who’d helped sire career-making albums for Alabama Shakes and Hurray for the Riff Raff, among others.
Playing guitar, piano, and electric harpsichord, Hames was aided in her effort by a pair of longtime pals in bassist Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather) and drummer Julian Dorio (The Whigs, Eagles of Death Metal). Lead guitar was supplied by young Nashville hotshot Adam Meisterhans (The Weight, JP5) while other friends and musical foils contributed, including veteran keyboard/organ wizard Dave Amels of Reigning Sound. Hames also enlisted top Music City vocalists Carey Kotsionis (Bobby Bare, Jr., Clem Snide) and Third Man artist Lillie Mae Rische (Jack White, Jypsi) to form an angelic mini-choir for the sessions.
The unbridled creativity threads the album’s ten eclectic tracks, from the gossamer jangle-pop of opener “When You Said Goodbye” to the eerie Morricone-quaver of closing lament “Dead River.” In between, Hames moves in manifold directions: serving up the high-velocity Ramones-esque romp “I Don’t Wanna Go,” the pining old-school country of “Tennessee Hollow,” and the bubblegum-fuzz nugget “If You Ain’t Mine.”
Hames says she had no agenda with the project, apart from fashioning an album that would resist easy genre tags. “I grew up listening to ’60s pop like Dusty Springfield, but also classic country music, like Patsy Cline, and things that bridged both worlds, like Bobbie Gentry. I guess I’m a fan of artists who can move between styles pretty seamlessly,” notes Hames. “Somehow, with this record, the end result doesn’t fit into any one category. Which is an exciting thing to me.”
The album’s nine originals are rounded out by a cover of “Tiny Pieces,” a lost ’90s gem penned by Tommy Stinson of alt-rock legends the Replacements. “It’s a really unique song,” says Hames, who delivers it as a duet with John McCauley of Deer Tick, the pair making like a dissolute Gram and Emmylou. “I just love John’s voice—particularly in the way we play off each other.”
Hames’ own vocals burn anew across the disc, highlighted by the sultry come-hither declaration “Long Time Coming,” and the simmering kiss-off “You’re Calling Me.” She reaches a personal peak with the album’s emotional centerpiece, the vaulting girl-group devotional “I Do Love You.”