Leslie Satcher's Love Letters Are Lively Reads

Acclaimed songwriter makes the leap to recording.

NASHVILLE — These days, songwriter Leslie Satcher mentally thanks an old flame twice.

Once is for his rejection of her — which led to her leaving her Texas home for Nashville — and the other is for providing the grist for a song that became the gritty "Love Letters From Old Mexico" (RealAudio excerpt).

That song opens her impressive album debut, Love Letters, which has become the talk of Nashville. Big, sweeping songs about raw emotion and the human condition fill the album, from that title track to such a seductive, powerful ballad as "Burn Me Down" (RealAudio excerpt).

Possessor of a big, emotive voice with an emotional catch in it akin to that of the late Tammy Wynette, Satcher has written hits for others for years — Vince Gill, Pam Tillis, Lee Ann Womack, Lorrie Morgan are a few. But she's always wanted to perform, she said.

"Last night's show is still reverberating on Music Row right now," Satcher said of a taping she had done the night before for the syndicated radio program "Mountain Stage" that also was a celebration of her album release.

"They are not used to shows in this town where every artist loves every artist. We were all hanging on the side of the stage to see each other. It was just incredible! Emmylou [Harris] was there with her mother. And Harlan [songwriter Harlan Howard] came out, and Melba Montgomery was there. It was like a who's who. It was wonderful. Vince [Gill] opened the show, and then Jim Lauderdale and Harley Allen and Keith Urban and myself. We had quite a party. I am blessed with friends."

Satcher signed her recording contract four years ago: Her first album did not happen immediately.

"There's no truer words than that Alan Jackson line: 'Lord on Music Row, don't the wheels turn slow,' " Satcher said. "That's what it feels like. It feels like you're creeping along in an armored tank, and then all of a sudden you get a Harley- Davidson and you're flying!"

Satcher grew up in Paris, Texas, where, "From the time I was a baby girl, I wanted to sing and to become a country-western star," she said. "I wanted to be just like Dolly Parton. Wasn't she a good role model! But here I am, a singer/songwriter. Dolly was very influential on me as a child. I listened to all her records. I came to town to be a singer, not knowing anything about being a songwriter. I didn't know you could make a living doing it."

She was 26 when she left Paris for Nashville. "I had done a couple of years of college, and I waited and waited until the guy I wanted to marry married somebody else. And when he married somebody else, he did me a big favor, because I packed my suitcases and came to Nashville. That big heartache has been a wonderful thing for me. It spawned a lot of songs — 'Love Letters' was written directly about him."

Satcher says one dilemma facing a songwriter turned recording artist is song selection — she's written hundreds, so which ones to pick for a debut album? "It was hard, but I went for the personal thing," she said. "People know my songs, they know that I can write commercial songs and pop songs and real country, country stuff, so what have I got that I can offer them from me? Everything that I feel shows in my face, but people listening to my album won't see my face. So I went for the heart-jerkers."

She covered only one non-Satcher song, doing a re-interpretation of Bobbie Gentry's classic 1967 hit, "Ode to Billie Joe" (RealAudio excerpt). "That is one of my favorite songs in my whole life," she said. "The way it happened, one night we were heading home from the studio, and my producer is 10 years younger than me, so at that time I was 36 or so, and he was 26. So we were driving along, and I was singing 'Ode to Billie Joe' and he looked over at me and said, 'Les, that's awesome. Did you write that? Let's cut that.' I said, 'Kid, what year were you born?'

"He never heard the original Bobbie Gentry version," she continued. "I went in with my gut-string guitar and my bass player, and we put it to tape with that groove and just built it up from there, and Mickey Raphael [from Willie Nelson's band] came in and played harmonica on it. Then after my producer heard that, I let him hear the original, and he said, 'Wow!' "