Maybe I’m too young for bouts of nostalgia, but cassettes becoming nearly obsolete in my lifetime entitles me to a sentimental moment, and here it is: The first time I heard Shannon Worrell, I was 16, my car still had a tape deck, and my best friend had collaged a cassette tape case to read “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Without An Intensely Musical Experience.” On the tape, sandwiched between Barenaked Ladies and R.E.M.—a golden age of radio pop, friends!—was an energy-soaked live performance of Worrell playing “Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner.” It was love at first listen, and it was years before I learned Worrell was local.
It’s been eight years since “Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner,” and Worrell’s The Honey Guide does nothing if not kick my arguably unearned nostalgia into high gear. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, the album ends quickly, and leaves you wondering where the good times went. Before you know it, it’s over, and don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?
But one thing’s clear: Worrell’s songwriting has a cinematic eye, and each song is delivered through a lens that, like nostalgia, is both sincere and rose-tinted. The opening piano ballad “Tennessee” evokes a long tracking shot of an old car driving out of town; the gentle mandolin in “Kitchen” is practically slats of sunlight lighting on a bowl of oranges. An album that begins with a song about moving out and moving on invites the listener to look over her shoulder at what’s being left: “The house burned down/ we can finally leave this town,” Worrell sings over Charlie Bell’s wistful and weepy pedal steel, and damned if I don’t feel nostalgic already.
The thing about nostalgia’s that it’s deliciously indulgent, like turtle cheesecake, and Worrell’s record is comparably rich. The album is thick with string, twang, and image-heavy writing, and the elements that make it perfect for certain occasions—moments when we’re ready to fall right into memory’s safe, matronly lap—are the same elements that make it a little too much for everyday listening.
Which isn’t to say that the album lacks the pop sensibility of Worrell’s earlier, September 67-era songwriting: “C’mon, Catherine” has the momentum and fiddle-gymnastics of a line dancin’ tune, and “Driving in the Dark” is an upbeat, country toe-tapper.
The Honey Guide is a tight, well-produced record and sentimental listen, chock full of local talent—Sarah White, Sam Wilson, and more; the gang’s all here!—and seasoned songwriting. It’s a series of sepia snapshots, a slow drive, a place you go when you’re in the mood for a little heartstring pulling. And we all like to dwell in the things we’ve left behind sometimes, even if the pace of the everyday makes us feel a little guilty for taking the time to do it.