From the moment they first sang together, Alice Wallace and Caitlin Cannon knew they had something, they just didn’t know what to call it. The “lovely harmony,” extolled by The Boot after the release of their first single, “Lucky Break,” in April 2021, describes musical kismet that can’t be manufactured or even learned. As artists with vastly different styles and personalities, the pair recognized there was strength in the depth of their differences. A shared love for a heartbreaking hook and punchy turn of phrase led to an album’s worth of co-written songs that deftly straddle the line between class and crass. This demanded they finally put a name to that intangible something between them--they call that thing Side Pony.
The release date for the Side Pony debut album is October 8, 2021. The release, also entitled Lucky Break, was recorded in the East Nashville studio of producer/guitarist Doug Lancio (Patty Griffin/John Hiatt/Todd Snider.) It features eight original tracks that ooze swagger and sweetness and lean into the “neo” of neo-country.
“Alice Wallace is a powerhouse of a singer, in the classic definition,” says Lancio, who spent 14 years playing guitar with Patty Griffin, and produced her critically acclaimed 2002 album 1000 Kisses. “I’ve wanted to work on a record with her since I first heard her voice. Alice introduced me to her collaborator/co-writer Caitlin, and turns out, Caitlin has an equally compelling voice with a distinct personality. It’s rare enough to work with singers of this caliber on their own, let alone have both of them singing material they’ve discovered together.”
When Wallace and Cannon first went into the studio to record the song “Lucky Break” in late 2020 with Lancio, he brought in Nashville ringers Chris Autry (Josh Turner) on bass, drummer Bryan Owings (Emmylou Harris), and Danny Mitchell on keys to bring the song to life. But when the duo went back in May to record the remaining 7 tracks on the full album, they invited their Nashville bandmates Andrew Sovine (Ashley McBryde/Wynonna/Kelsey Waldon) on guitar, bassist Caleb Mundy, and Erin Nelson (Ian Noe) on drums to capture the energy and camaraderie of their live shows. With additional accompaniment from Michael Webb (Poco/Hank Williams Jr/John Fogerty) on keys and Dan Dugmore (Linda Ronstadt/James Taylor) on pedal steel, it was a chance for Cannon and Wallace to record with some of the best Nashville has to offer.
In the increasingly accessible world of digitized music and bands in the “box,” it can be a real luxury to hole-up in the studio for several days with some creative juggernauts and Beta 58’s. While to some it may be a lost art, producer Lancio’s nostalgic sensibilities foster the kind of happy accidents that become the visceral melodic hooks that beckon the listener inside the song.
Like the title track, “Lucky Break,” which lobs a metaphorical curveball in the direction of a pandemic that has upended the careers of so many in the music industry, the songs on this new Side Pony album pull no punches. The lead track on the record, “Bad Ideas,” barrels out of the gate with a rollicking nod to the morning after a night (or a lifetime) packed full of bad decisions. The Waylon-reminiscent 70’s groove of “Heels” sets the stage for a slew of tongue-in-cheek jabs at the archaic expectation that a woman should diminish herself to please a man. And on the lilting and heartrending “Old Woman,” the duo sing about the kind of love they’ve always wanted to have but have accepted they may have to wait until old age to find.
Also on the album is “All I Have is Want,” an homage inspired by the ache felt in Gary Wright’s “Long, Long Time” recorded by Linda Ronstadt in 1969 (which Wallace also recorded with Lancio in 2019.) The raucous live track “All the Time in the World” pokes fun at how a worldwide quarantine led to some interesting technological advances and tendencies. Amidst its throwback shuffle and vaudevillian humor, it nods to timelessness during a period in which time did stand still. Then there’s “Under the Surface,” their petition for equality disguised in a song about the plight of being a mermaid. But perhaps it was the duo’s first auspicious co-write, “Pressing My Luck,” that set the tone for a bold album that digs at the boundary between country traditionalism and innovation.
Wallace’s voice rings with echoes of the 70s country and rock of her California roots, with influence from artists like Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Joni Mitchell. Cannon, on the other hand, spent the entirety of her twenties in New York City and developed a grungier songwriting style that brings to mind Nanci Griffith or Kelly Willis and derives influence from the likes of Shovels and Rope and Elizabeth Cook. On stage as Side Pony, Wallace’s mesmerizing, powerhouse performance skills are expanded by Cannon’s evocative and resonant harmonies, and their combined affinity for sucker-punch lyrics and truth-telling leaves no empty spaces.
Before meeting, the two artists garnered plenty of accolades on their own: Wallace’s 2019 release Into the Blue led to her touring festivals and venues across the U.S. and Europe and receiving praise in publications like Rolling Stone Country and American Songwriter. And even though Cannon released her solo debut The TrashCannon Album amid a global pandemic in May 2020 and could not tour, the reception was stellar - earning her a 9.5 rating and a spot on the list of Essential Albums of 2020 by Saving Country Music, as well as features in Billboard, Wide Open Country and more.
As women in the music industry celebrate each other more in recent years, spurred by changes in the culture, the noticeable gender inequality in the music business, and the rallying cry of the #MeToo movement, “Side Pony find the good in the bad,” declares The Boot, as Cannon and Wallace embrace the power of their collaboration. They’ve also joined forces with female-led record label Mule Kick Records to release their debut. Co-founded by artists KP Hawthorn and Adrienne Cohen-Isom, both of whom Alice worked with on her Into the Blue album, Mule Kick was formed in 2020 to release LA-based band NOCONA’s new record Los Dos, and now also represents the Rockabilly Filly herself, Rosie Flores, LA-based duo Desert Hollow, and Nashville’s The HawtThorns and Andrew Leahey and The Homestead.