When I interviewed Heidi Newfield in April 2020, I provided the “where she came from” story of this northern California horsewoman and how she learned the harmonica, became part of the group Trick Pony and wrote the timeless lyrics to Johnny and June.
Now, on August 28th, after releasing multiple singles, she has finally released her sophomore solo album and it is well worth the wait.
Newfield co-produced The Barfly Sessionswith Jim “Moose” Brown who, in addition to being a hit-making songwriter and producer, is known for being the bandleader of Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band. She has known Moose Brown from almost as soon as she moved to Nashville. “Besides the fact that Moose is genuinely a kind, loving easy-going kind of guy, his musicality has no boundaries. He’s a Muscles Shoalsy kind of guy. He loves that loose sort of thing but then he can be a technical guy.”
They worked together on demos for years. They even considered using Moose for a possible reuniting of Trick Pony, but it wasn’t met to be.
In the past, Newfield always had a record label take care of all of the production details, but now that she was putting out her own record, Moose Brown was the obvious choice to help her co-produce it. “We just work so well together. We are friends and he truly has that musical mindset I was hoping to achieve with this record. He can cut the country of countriest type songs and not get in the way of the music. It’s not always about the notes you play, it’s often about the notes you don’t play,” the songstress reminds. Moose Brown is a multifaceted artist who not only honors the traditional sound of country music and but is steeped in blues, gospel, and good rock n roll.
Brown and Newfield handpicked their dream band and purposely set to record it at Moose’s studio in Goodlettsville, (TN) instead of Music Row. “We were stuck out there,” she explains.Together they created the new sound- the blues, country, soul, and rock singer that can only be Heidi Newfield and let it go from there.
“We would let Fred (Eltringham) count it off and see what would happen and nine times out of then, it was magic. Because we picked the right players, they knew when to play and when not play.” Moose Brown also plays on the record and is known for playing a B3 Hammond organ and anything else with keys.
Even though Newfield is what she calls a “decent” rhythm guitar player which helps with songwriting, she didn’t need to play on her new album. When you’re in the studio with likes of Bobby Terry (a stellar steel guitar player), the award-winning Michael Rhodes on bass guitar player, or Moose Brown, she didn’t need to pick up a guitar too much. This freed up Newfield to “turn loose” on harmonica. Moose helped push her along and reinforced her confidence to include the instrument more often than not.
When creating this record, diversity was very important to Newfield. She elucidates, “When we were finished, we didn’t just have a country record, we had a record full of music that smacks you across the face from the very first song and then you go for a ride.” The various songs from The Barfly Sessions will make you want to two-step, then cry, then shoot whiskey and laugh, and also rock out. This is music you can’t put in a box.
Newfield confirms, “As an indie artist, it was a blessing to be able to co-produce and have creative control of my album and then this happened [COVID]. It makes it especially daunting to put this record out when you can’t put a tour around it. Putting a record out in this climate is like jumping off a cliff and praying you don’t die.”
Although The Barfly Sessions is comprised mostly of songs that she helped write, Heidi Newfield and Delbert McClinton’s cover of the “Blues is My Business” is one of the best things you will hear all year. God created Heidi Newfield’s voice to sing the blues and this song showcases that talent like none other. Additionally, Newfield added her harmonica intro which takes the song to a whole other level and proves that she belongs with the men in the (fictional) Harmonica Hall of Fame.
Newfield exclaims, “This is the kind of music that has no boundaries. How do you put a label on that? Yeah, it’s blues, but it’s kind of soul, kind of country, it’s everything. It’s got all the feels.” With “Blues is My Business,” Newfield gets down and dirty on this rhythmic romper, blowing her harp while wailing a saucy vocal with McClinton.
Jim Lauderdale sang “I Could Fall for You” with Newfield. “I was going for that Bakersfield, early-type George Jonesy feel and not very many people, especially women, can sing like that anymore. But that’s where Jim Lauderdale butters his bread and his voice just melded right in with mine.”
Debuted on The Bluegrass Situation and written alongside Chris Stapleton and Trent Willmon, “When Heaven Falls” originated with the loss of her mother back in 2004. She had carried around the grief and it finally found its way out in this song. Says the crooner, “It’s a little tattered and it’s not busy or fancy, but there was a timing and transparency that was captured at that moment that we wanted to keep.”
Besides “Blues is My Business,” the only other song she sings that she didn’t co-write is “Whitley’s Tombstone” which she duets with the incomparable Randy Houser. Newfield explains, “The song was brilliantly written by Leslie Satcher, Kent Blazy, and Jon Randall and paints such a raw and truthful picture of love lost.”
“’Bring This House Down’ and ‘Come Hell or High Water Blues’ have such a good feel to it and I don’t care who you are or what you were raised on, these songs will make you feel good. You can’t help but roll your shoulders, shake your ass and move your feet,” Newfield exuberantly shares.
With “Wrong Side of the Bottle” you have forlorn lyrics like Nursing a heartache/Lord it ain’t right/But I’m on the wrong side of the bottle tonight. You can’t help but (gladly) commiserate with the woefulness of this melancholy masterpiece.
Another anthem you can’t omit is the heart-ache hymn, “Three Things”. With the bluesy cadence, you’ll swear you heard it back in the day on Beale Street, but it is an original song crafted by Newfield, Moose Brown and Rivers Rutherford.
It doesn’t matter if you think you don’t like country music. If you like soul-searching, kick-ass music with clever, classic lyrics, alongside the top-rated session band members and background vocalists (Wendy Moten, anyone?) mixed with the most talented sound engineers you can find, you will want Barfly Sessions Vol.1 to be a part of your music collection.