Just Say Nay

Fronted by late-bloomer Anna Padgett, the Naysayer is all about the songs.

"People sometimes say, 'Why don't you take some lessons and learn how to do more stuff?'" Padgett sighs. "I guess I could. But I guess I like how I play. I mean, I am limited. I don't really write searing guitar solos or anything, so if I want one, I have to ask someone else to do it. But it's probably a similar thing to my resistance to playing out. In a way, I don't really want to learn the exact, proper way to do things. I don't know the names of any chords I play. Sometimes it's frustrating, and I'm embarrassed. It's not like I don't want to know -- I just can't remember.

"I'm not a hotshot by any means," Padgett continues, chuckling at the understatement. "For me, it's just about writing songs."

In keeping with this philosophy, the Naysayer doesn't play many covers, although Padgett confesses that it's more a function of her inexperience than a conscious decision. In fact, the title of the new album originated in Padgett's desire to cover a ZZ Top song, only to find that she couldn't do it. "They're from where I'm from, and I really wanted to learn one of their songs, but I'm really bad at figuring out covers," she says. "I was at this used-record store in Louisville, and there was this ZZ Top record with a song on it called 'Heaven, Hell, or Houston.' I liked the way the song title puts Houston on a level with heaven or hell, almost like it's Purgatory or something. I was like, 'No matter what that song sounds like, I'm covering it!' So I brought it home and listened to it, and it's totally insane. It may be a good song, but it wasn't a song I could cover or would even want to cover. So I made up my own 'Heaven, Hell or Houston.'"

A good thing, too: Padgett's version is a hushed, dreamy dirge, punctuated with ethereal harmonies, chiming bells and the bare scrape of a cello. Luminous and fragile, it hovers over the borrowed title like a butterfly circling a dung heap. It's about as far from the gutbucket roadhouse boogie of her hirsute fellow Houstonians as it's possible to be and still qualify as music, but it makes a weird kind of sense.

Whether it's heaven, hell, Houston or some amalgam thereof, Padgett makes it sound inviting.

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