Wonder World released on 3/18/22
Wonder World Track Listing:
1. All Of This
2. Memo To My Sister
3. Little Girl
4. Turn The Other Way
5. Coffee And Wine
7. Putting Down Some Things
Offering a message of authenticity and self-acceptance, Nashville songwriter MacKenzie Grant returns with Wonder World, her first collection of new songs in 15 years. Beautifully produced and engineered by Phil Dubnick, the album matches Grant’s ability as a classically trained pianist and vocalist with the clear-eyed perspective of a woman who’s learned to let go of what she cannot control.
“Whether they were older songs or newer songs, these are the ones that I believe in,” she says. “They’re the most sincere and real parts of myself and I’m not afraid to just put that out there anymore. I’m happier now and I feel a lot braver in my choices. Going into my mid to late 40s, I feel more and more a sense of relief and peace about things.”
Before the pandemic took hold in early 2020, Grant was working as a school counselor and writing new songs. She enlisted Dubnick, a longtime friend and former classmate at Berklee College of Music, to produce some tracks that would be stripped-down and straightforward enough to allow the songs to speak for themselves. Grant plays keyboard, piano and organ throughout the album, while her friend Josh Kaler contributes pedal steel, adding a haunting, vibey feel to the sessions.
“Honestly, this started out with me wanting to do it for myself, to just have them and make them sound the way that I want them to sound,” she says. “In the past I’d given over a lot of that power to other people because I was a lot younger and not as confident in myself and in my choices. But I had nothing to lose this time, so we just started recording tunes, and then through the pandemic we kept going.”
There’s an immediacy and intimacy that runs through Wonder World, particularly in its lead track, “All of This.” The impactful lyrics recall a moment of reckoning, both personally and professionally, as Grant struggled to decide her next move.
“Before the pandemic hit I realized that I couldn’t stay in the line of work that I was in anymore,” she says. “I was working with high-poverty, high-trauma preschoolers in a public preschool program, doing trauma therapy. It broke me wide open. That work got rid of any illusions I had about the world but it also gave me a lot of hope. It was like, ‘I need to take a step back and figure out what to do with all of this that I’m feeling right now,’ because of what I had been experiencing through these children and their families.”
Among her strongest musical influences, Grant cites artists like Jackson Browne, Patty Griffin, and Emmylou Harris for their ability to sing powerfully while still retaining a folk element in their songwriting. On the poignant ballad “Little Girl,” she draws on firsthand experience, yet she says the song has already sparked a reaction and a sense of recognition among the women who have heard her sing it.
“There’s a moment happening – and hopefully it’s not just a moment – especially for women in terms of where we are, where we thought we were, and where we need to be. The song is autobiographical but it speaks to the story of a lot of women I know who have pushed themselves in a world that’s not necessarily fighting for them, and that I believe is still pretty patriarchal. There’s a lot of pain that we’ve endured, and continue to, but we are strong and can get through it.”
Grant reflects on her own family on “Memo to My Sister” and faces the end of a relationship in “Coffee and Wine” and “Turn the Other Way.” Meanwhile, Wonder World takes its title from a lyric in “Borderline,” the still-relevant song from Joni Mitchell’s 1994 album, Turbulent Indigo (which incidentally she made in her 40s.) The spirited “Putting Down Some Things,” which concludes Grant’s new release, may be the album’s most uplifting song.
“Wonder World really is about telling the truth and not hiding,” she explains. “That song is about putting down what you continue to pretend to want, or strive for, or be – and then being fully authentic. I know I couldn’t have written that song with any kind of honesty in my 20s.”
As a naturally gifted musician, Grant has been writing and singing for as long as she can remember. A native of Syracuse, New York, and the daughter of two classically trained musicians, she effortlessly blends the clarity of her singing voice with the raw emotion in her lyrics. After three years at the University of Michigan, she transferred to Berklee in Boston, where she received positive feedback on her songwriting from her professors and peers alike. Grant relocated to Nashville in 2000 after visiting the city with friends on spring break and discovering that it immediately felt like home.
Just before moving, she’d made an independent album that attracted the attention of a hit songwriter in Nashville, who invited her to write and record together if she ever came to town. That connection helped open the doors to the city's songwriting community, as she developed an audience through playing writers rounds and releasing the 2006 album, The Laundry Room Glamour Hour. Around this same time, she also married and started a family, but gradually she became disillusioned with the music industry and her first marriage ended.
Now remarried and raising three children (a high schooler, a middle schooler, and a preschooler), she is once again using music as a way to connect with others and herself.
“I think writing songs is really therapeutic,” she says. “It helps me on a selfish level to streamline all of my thoughts into what the base of it is, what the real substance of it is. My goal as I get older is to write simpler and clearer. I want someone to resonate with what I’m saying in the song just as simply and as plainly as I can.”