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Well worth the wait:

Melanie Rose Dyer's 'The Long Way Around'
tells the truth … and gives it a groove

I had to go through Egypt to get to Cheyenne
I had to go through hell to reach the promised land
My heart's been tested, but here I stand
I had to take the long way around
To get where I am

       – The Long Way Around (written by Melanie R. Dyer/Marc Rossi)

Melanie Rose Dyer's new album, recorded in Nashville over the past three years, is titled The Long Way Around. That's an apt title for a project that has literally been a lifetime in the making.

“This is my life's project – it kind of is my life story,” Dyer says.

This is no typical Music Row production. It has little in common with today's mainstream country (though acts ranging from Reba to Wynonna to Lady A would be wise to raid it for songs). Dyer calls it “American roots rock with R&B influences.” She adds: “It's a very song-driven project … personal songwriting tapping into universal emotions. Real life, real emotions. It kind of goes back to my roots, what I used to do.”

Dyer grew up in a small rural town in Virginia, one of seven children in a house with one bathroom. (The house of her earliest years sat on cinder blocks with chickens under it, with an outdoor toilet, and a washtub for bathing the little ones.) Dyer was in the eighth grade when they got TV. Outside household-related chores, there was little to do but listen to music, read a lot of books and use one's imagination. Such activities were formative: Today one sibling designs gold jewelry; another teaches music.

Melanie Rose's youthful musical intake was diverse: classical, gospel, R&B, folk and rock 'n' roll. Acts who caught her ear included Mahalia Jackson; Aretha Franklin; the Beatles: Peter, Paul and Mary; and the music coming out of Memphis and Motown. Out of her Dad's radio the family absorbed a constant deluge of country and ole' timey music. She was drawn to performance and discovered a gift for it. After college, she moved to Colorado, entertaining on the ski resort circuit and finding an early fan in a young Gretchen Peters, who grew up in Boulder.

She came to Nashville in 1981 without a penny to her name, for one reason: to write songs. She delivered on that goal: signing a publishing deal; writing with many of the top writers including Pat Alger (“Unanswered Prayers,” “Small Town Saturday Night”); hobnobbing with Music Row hit makers and power brokers.

Then, as so often happens, life intervened. The cash flow and momentum never came. Various projects were initiated and aborted. While waiting tables with other aspiring musicians in 1986, she applied for an airline job on a lark, and that led to a 25-year career as a flight attendant. The full-time job consumed her time, but the income financed her publishing company, Fanetta Music, which has scored major cuts with artists such as folk icon Tom Rush (Appleseed Records), Rick Trevino (Sony-Epic) and Helen Darling (MCA-Decca).

When husband Tom Robb, a renowned session bass player, was diagnosed with liver cancer, she became a caregiver, largely putting her musical aspirations on the back burner for two years until well after his death in 2006. Those days remain hard to talk about. But they provoked two intensely autobiographical songs that became the genesis of The Long Way Around.

“The Lord Himself Came” is about her husband's death. “I'll Love Again” is about trying to learn to date again after two-plus decades of marriage and then two years of “very traumatic ... and very cathartic” recovery. After the former received some doubled-edged feedback – The song is incredible, but I don't know what you're going to do with it – she had a revelation: “It's my life story, it's me, and nobody can tell this story but me.”

“So I think it was from there I just decided I was going to do this project,” Dyer says. “I think my husband dying at 57 was like a wake-up call that you need to go ahead and do what you want to do. …During the time that he was sick, I had a sense that I could hear time just rushing by my ears.”

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Where she is now is a much better place, emotionally speaking. Dyer retired from the airline industry in September 2011 and is in personal, creative and business relationship with Daniel Cooper, a musician and inventor. The pair have launched a successful company, Coopercopia LLC, with the unique Cooperstand folding guitar stand.

And they are co-producers of this marvelous new record, a heady distillation of Melanie Rose Dyer's life-so-far into a soulful, heartfelt, groove-infested brew

Other than Dyer, only three writers are featured on The Long Way Around: Pat Alger, Marc Rossi and Cooper. Dyer was the sole writer on two of the songs. The album “is very in-house,” she says. “Songs that I felt could represent my style.”

“Luckily for me,” she says with a winning smile, “there were lots of great musicians who wanted to play on my CD, and have fun.” The players include bandleader Glen Duncan on acoustic guitar, Mike Durham on electric guitar, Jack Pearson (Allman Brothers) on slide and resonator guitar, Mike Prentice and Don Kerce on bass, Paul Scholten on drums, Tim Lauer and Charles Judge on piano and B3, and the legendary Jim Horn on saxophone. Shaun Murphy of Little Feat fame sings backup on four tracks.

Highlights include the rousing blues rock of the album opening “First Time in Forever”; the lushly produced “The Rain Is on My Side”; the poignantly cautious love ballad “If I Never Say”; and “Get Out of My Own Way,” a motivational kick in the pants. “The Lord Himself Came,” which could have been morbid or maudlin, instead exudes jubilation.

Tom Robb's spirit hovers over these recordings, as it does in the home studio. When acclaimed guitarist and producer Don Potter, architect of the Judds sound, had visited during Tom's illness, he expected an oppressive atmosphere; instead he found the place “full of life.”

And “full of life” serves as a pretty apt description for Melanie Dyer's music.

“This is a totally self-financed, maybe even self-indulgent, project,” she says. “But the songs are just rich with real life. I'm proud of it.”

Says Pat Alger: “Melanie has been one of my favorite collaborators for over 20 years. It is a reflection of the serendipity of the music business that this album may be the first time most people will get to hear her and her wonderful songwriting. Now you'll finally realize what you've been missing all this time."

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