For her new album, Just Move On (June 24, 2016, Berkalin Records) Americana singer-songwriter Libby Koch set out to deliver a collection of “true cryin’ and leavin’ country songs,” inspired by the strong-woman spirits of Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and other legendary voices she grew up admiring. Guided by Grammy-winning Nashville producer Bil VornDick, she succeeds brilliantly; the album’s 11 tracks plumb matters of the heart with lyrical candor, melodic diversity and top-notch musicianship from some of Nashville’s finest players.
Critics are already taking notice; calling the album “delightful,” No Depression added, “Koch produces songs which are warm, vulnerable and relatable, like a bowl of gumbo and a mug of Shiner Bock at the end of a hard, rainy day.”
She also imbues them with an immediacy one doesn’t always hear in such recordings; that came, in part, from the way they were captured in the studio.
“We recorded the whole thing live over two days; two sessions per day,” says Koch (pronounced “coke”). “That’s something I’ve never done before. It was so cool. It’s like the energy of playing onstage, but multiplied.”
Recording took place at Studio 19 on Music Row and at VornDick’s Mountainside Audio Labs, a former Moose Lodge where Cline and others used to drink when Nashville was a dry town. As if playing in legendary spaces with equally legendary session aces — including Bobby Ogdin (Elvis Presley), Sonny Garrish (George Jones), Bruce Dees (Ronnie Milsap) and Aubrie Haynie (Dolly Parton) — wasn’t thrilling enough, for Koch, the experience was even more inspiring because that city was where her musical dreams took form.
A seventh-generation Texan, the Houston native and part-time Austin resident started writing songs in eighth grade. She performed in coffee houses “just for fun” while attending Texas A&M, but then she entered law school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville — where, she says, “Everybody picks up a guitar and starts playing.”
“I realized I could hang, which surprised me,” she recalls. “I wouldn’t be making music professionally if I hadn’t gone to law school.”
Koch began recording her first album right after graduation, but that tuition debt required taking a job at a large Houston law firm. It got old fast, but when a mentor suggested she take a year off to give music a go, her reaction was “I can’t do that!” Her next reaction was “Wait. Can I do that?” She started saving and planning. Caught in a round of layoffs months later, she tried not to smile too much on her way out.
Six years later, she’s releasing her fourth solo album, which captures her gospel-grounded and honkytonk-honed voice powerfully navigating the emotions inherent in songs about relationships (all of which she wrote or co-wrote). Starting with the opening break-up trio, “Just Move On,” “You Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Out of My Misery” — three diverse, retro-to-modern songs that convey both the pain of loss and the triumph of empowerment — Koch inhabits a style Free Press Houston accurately labels “country meets soulful.”
“I’m a little bit country; I’m a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. I got a little folk in me,” Koch says. Her mom turned her on to Motown; her dad adored cowboy music. “I think I probably landed somewhere in the middle of that.”
She ties it all together with a little Muscle Shoals soul — an intentional evolution from the acoustic-roots sound of her 2014 release, Tennessee Colony, which drew on her ancestors’ stories to address themes of family, faith and home. Among its many accolades, that one earned a spot on the Houston Press’ year-end top-10 list.
Koch also was part of the Grievous Angels, the trio whose self-titled 2013 album earned a Houston Press Music Award and the 2014 Texas Music Award for Vocal Group of the Year.
She says this album’s title is a nod to the notion of following your heart and your dreams, as well as her shift to a more electric sound. The song itself, however, addresses not being ready to move on. But a lyric in “Out of My Misery” perfectly encapsulates both the kiss-off and career move: Cause I’m making plans here/And I’m moving on.
And when you find yourself in a spot you don’t want to be in, she adds, you’ve gotta figure out how to do exactly that.
Libby Koch tour dates
May 26 – Liberty Tree Tavern, Elgin, Texas (with Susan Cattaneo)
June 2 – Dabbs Railroad Hotel, Llano, Texas (with W.C. Jameson)
June 5 – Ausländer Restaurant & Biergarten, Fredericksburg, Texas (with Stephen K. Morris)
June 10 – Stingaree Restaurant & Marina, Crystal Beach, Texas (full band)
June 11 – McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, Houston, Texas (full band CD release show)
June 12 – Strange Brew, Austin, Texas (with Annalise Emerick, Frank Martin Gilligan, Emily Herring, Will Southern)
June 23 – Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse, Spicewood, Texas (CD release show)
June 25 – Texas National Outfitters, Houston, Texas
June 26 – Strange Brew, Austin, Texas
July 10 – The Bugle Boy, LaGrange, Texas
July 13 – Redneck Country Club, Stafford, Texas
July 14 – Alvin Community College, Alvin, Texas
Aug. 6 – Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival Potting, Inverness, Scotland
Sept. 14 – Redneck Country Club, Stafford, Texas
Sept. 27 – Liberty Tree Tavern, Elgin, Texas (with Laura Zucker)