Heather Horton lied to me. Well, maybe half a little white lie. She told me, and I quote, that her new album Don’t Mess With Mrs Murphy “is a very heavy and patient listen but I’m pretty sure you will ‘get it’.” ‘Get it’, I did. But heavy and patient it was not; it flew out of the speakers and punched me right in the heart and ever since then, has been flowing through my veins and into my brain and seeping onto the pages of the crime fiction novel I am writing. This is how inspiration works. However this is not about me, but about Heather Lynne Horton and the jewel of an album she has created.
You might not have heard of Ms Horton, even though she’s been working as a musician for the past twenty years. As someone who is usually late to a party, I first heard her sweet musical stylings when she formed the band The Westies with her husband, Michael McDermott. Now, as she put it herself, “I’m over forty and the holding the pen to sign my first legit record deal.” The nerves she felt after fans and supporters backed her Kickstarter campaign to finance the album were due to “self-imposed self-doubts”, with others believing that only the sky was her limit. Now, she told me: “The ‘self-doubt’ is more an evolution and less to do with this album than most anything actually. It takes a lifetime to cultivate a pattern of self-imposed anything. I think we’ve all done a proper job on that for ourselves. The notion of ‘letting people down’ is more about a two decade span of making and performing music without the locked in material goals. Loving people and being loved- knowing that their societal fix would be for me to have fame and fortune to brand the success of my work or efforts. Knowing now, truly, that this has less to do with me than mere luck, has freed me from the guilt of thinking I’ve ‘let down’ people. But also realizing that my aspirations were only clouded by the very act of the art. Making music was my survival but more from a coping mechanism perspective.
“I really believe that people’s acceptance and appreciation for this record comes from them either knowing me or themselves completely. So I feel great about the feedback thus far – it is either silence…or ecstatic bewilderment.”
Don’t Mess With Mrs Murphy is a piece of Heather Horton, body and soul. Perhaps it’s as close as you can get to her without actually knowing her. Gentle and poetic and full of tender, beautiful almost heartbreaking sweetness. There are swift just-passing reflections of Neko Case, Rilo Kiley and Nanci Griffith, but for all this album’s beauty and empathy, there is an undercurrent of strength and grittiness. “Jolene ain’t got nothing on you,” in FU is a clear and precise warning shot; Wheelchair Man is a step inside someone else’s painful world that only an empathetic artist can do with lyrics that conspire to yank your heart out of its cage. There’s the flirtatious joy of Did You Feel That, the pure soaring lullaby Save the Rain and I Wanna Die In My Sleep, perhaps the most poignant love song you’ll ever hear. If the exquisite purity of Heather’s voice doesn’t move you to deep emotional levels, you have no soul. Then there’s the stunning bonus on the download version, a cover duet with Michael McDermott that turns the cheesy Travolta/Newton John hit into something seductive and tense: You’re The One That I Want
If the lyrics on this album seem intensely personal and a slice of the artist’s life, then maybe they are. Heather says: “There are many smaller messages throughout the record, of course. And even those are intended to be taken in and translated/related to the listener, directly and personally. But the overall message of the record is actually an invitation for an open conversation. Permission for myself and from myself ‘to enter’ – enter with ‘truth’ into the space between my heart and brain and the interpreter. As a woman who seeks and craves for others, ‘empowerment’ – also completely relative- here I am trying to practice what I preach…to become completely vulnerable and say the details of what I really see, what I’m asking others to see, and that they feel safer to do the same.”
If empowerment is the end game, for herself and for others, then this album is a clear million selling gold star winner. It deserves to be. Heather Horton deserves to be a Grammy winning superstar, but artistic genius will probably suffice. For now, this writer continues to play this album for the women in her novel and she bathes in inspiration from the deep, empowering wellspring of Don’t Mess With Mrs Murphy.
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Photos of Heather Horton in concert by Terri Murphy.