Record-breaking, eight-time CMA Musician of the Year, producer, and singer-songwriter Mac McAnally has written smash hits for numerous artists, including Alabama, Kenny Chesney, and Sawyer Brown as well as continues to collaborate and tour on the road with Jimmy Buffett.
He has also written songs not so much for chart success as “to document some lesson I’d figured out about life that could potentially make me a better person.”
One such song is “With A Straight Face.” Even before he premiered it at the release party for his latest album A.K.A. Nobody, he knew that this haunting ballad had the potential to change lives and heal wounds. And now people are hearing the tune and its compassion resonates.
Recorded with a small string section and piano, “With A Straight Face” tells the stories of two gay children, a girl and a boy. It captures, not without sympathy, the parents’ inability to understand what their kids are going through. “‘The family name – you ought to be ashamed,” McAnally sings.
In simple but eloquent language, “With A Straight Face” distills the insights McAnally formed while growing up in his Mississippi hometown.
Its two characters are drawn from “two or three folks I actually knew,” he says. “But as the song developed, it brought me back to the love I felt from the people in the churches where I grew up as well. I see wonderful things in both groups, the families that feel compelled to try and ‘correct’ their children and the kids who cannot be corrected for who they are.”
“I see goodness in them all,” he insists. “I would never have written the song this way if I didn’t.”
“I can’t presume to write someone’s life,” he continues. “So I began writing about my empathy for everyone involved. When I realized what was happening, it stood the hair up on my arms because I stumbled across a perspective I hadn’t heard explored before.”
Not knowing what to expect, McAnally placed “With A Straight Face” maybe five songs down in his playlist during his album release party at Nashville’s City Winery. “I didn’t put any special light onto it. I just played it. And it got a standing ovation. An hour later, at the end of my set, I got one too, but it was the song itself that triggered that first response.”
“With A Straight Face” is a regular part of McAnally’s live set these days, mixed among “It’s A Crazy World,” “Barney” and his many other familiar songs from years past. And still, he says, ‘There’s always this element in the response of ‘I’ve never heard a song about this before.’ And people have been thanking me more and more for addressing this subject. I’ve even heard from two separate ministers who have sent me excerpts of sermons they’ve given that were inspired by this song.”
McAnally’s smile suggests gratitude and maybe a bit of disbelief. “If I get letters from two pastors, there are probably five or six more who have felt the same way. Which is wonderful because, honestly, the people who can benefit the most from ‘With A Straight Face’ are my fellow church members. They have all this compassion but they keep it under lock and key. Maybe with this song I’ve figured a way to open that lock for some of the folks who might need it the most.”
Known in the music industry as a triple-threat singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, McAnally has been honored for the past eight years with the Country Music Association’s Musician Of The Year award. In 2007, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame.
For more information, visit www.macmcanally.com.