In the town where country music was born-where two states come together on one street-a spark lit and a duo was ignited. At the 2012 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, on the way to take the stage with his band, Sol Driven Train, guitarist/singer Joel Timmons found himself sidetracked by Della Mae, an all-female, GRAMMY-nominated bluegrass band. It was that group’s bass player, Shelby Means, who most captivated his attention. After a conversation at the merchandise table about their shared love of travel & music, two-years passed before Means & Timmons would reconnect. A bold love song led the way, and eventually a growing romance turned into the Nashville-based duo Sally & George & their debut album Tip My Heart.
With Tip My Heart, Sally & George have made an engaging, eclectic debut album. It’s a thoughtful meditation on Means’ & Timmons’ courtship & love (the duo got engaged in July 2016 on a mountain in North Carolina after work on Tip My Heart was completed). The album deftly moves from rollicking, electrified rockers to stripped down, gauzy reflections on love & faith, to walking bass-led country-indebted duets. All of it is done tastefully, with an earnestness that does not shy away from humor or the occasional cuss word.
Tip My Heart came together over the course of two-years, in three chapters. The first chapter began in Laramie, Wyoming at Thanksgiving 2014. Timmons and Means were visiting Means’ parents for the holiday. They had four original songs & since the snow was coming down sideways, they enlisted the engineering of a mutual friend & decided to go into the studio. Their intention was to have some fun & experiment recording together. After a day & a half in Thunderground Sound Studio, the duo had five rough mixes & newfound confidence that they could make a great record together. When they were driving to Denver to catch their flight home, they were so excited listening to their roughs that they missed a turn & ended up in Nebraska.
Chapter two was over a year later in Charleston, SC, at the home studio of Shovels & Rope on Wadmalaw Island. After a busy year, Means & Timmons gathered enough songs to go back into the studio. Shovels & Rope’s Cary Ann Hearst & Michael Trent were old friends of Timmons’ in the Charleston music scene. Since Hearst & Trent were taking some time off the road with their new baby, they invited Sally & George to spend a few days recording at Studio Bees. The family atmosphere & the rock & roll edge of Shovels & Rope both found their way into the music that was recorded there.
Chapter three happened six months later. Sally & George finished things off at Tim Carter’s studio just outside of Music City. The casual atmosphere at Tim’s cabin studio made Sally & George feel at home & they were able to dig into the final production of Tip My Heart. They brought in Nashville friends 10 String Symphony, Langhorne Slim, The Danberrys & more for overdubs & finished the record.
The title track, “Tip My Heart,” is a great example of what makes Sally & George such a potent musical duo. Written by Means when she was still in Della Mae, the song didn’t fit into that band’s framework. The playful lyrics (with references to Jack & Jill and Humpty Dumpty) are enhanced by Shelby & Joel’s glittering harmonies & a fiery electric guitar.
After their initial meeting at Bristol R&R, Timmons was inspired to write “Pipedream,” vividly imagining what it would be like to spend the rest of their lives together. He emailed Means the song & waited an excruciating two weeks for her reply. She finally wrote back, thanking him for the flattery and she also informed him that she already had a boyfriend. When that boyfriend exited the picture a few months later, their romance began.
“Wild Tiger Style” and “Love Electric” both reflect the duos rock n roll side, with electric guitars & seductive, impassioned vocals. A gauzy, questioning track, “Baby” was inspired by a quote Means heard in yoga class. The track came together at Shovels & Rope’s studio, with Trent & Hearst’s baby blessing the space before tapes were rolling.
A longtime surfer in Charleston, Timmons’ love for Means meant uprooting himself and moving to Nashville. “Nashville Beach” is Timmons’ attempt to assuage his ocean heart by imagining life in Nashville as a different kind of wave. “Hey Wow” was Sally & George’s first appointment co-write. The duo scheduled a time & met in their living room, channeling the sometimes bawdy duets of John Prine/Iris Dement & the back and forth, conversational style of Johnny & June.
Means and Timmons took on the name Sally & George as a tribute to Means’ dapper grandparents. Knowing her daughter’s love of vintage clothes Sherri Means saved Sally and George’s hip threads and gifted them to Means & Timmons on Thanksgiving in 2014. This was also the time Means and Timmons began recording Tip My Heart. They arrived at the initial sessions at Thunderground Sound Studio wearing Sally & George’s clothes.
After the holiday and back in Nashville, the duo struggled to find a band name that would stick. One night after donning Sally & George’s outfits to go out in Nashville, Joel said, “We’re stepping out like Sally & George”. Shelby’s eyes lit up and she said, “That’s our band name!” Sally & George felt like a natural fit, like slipping into an old pair of your grandpa’s jeans.
Prior to forming Sally & George, Means and Timmons spent time in Della Mae and Sol Driven Train, respectively. Means was nominated for a GRAMMY for Della Mae’s This World Oft Can Be, & the band won IBMA’s Emerging Artist of the year. They performed at Bonnaroo, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Merlefest & twice at the Grand Ole Opry & were U.S. cultural ambassadors, performing in 20 countries around the world. Friends since childhood, the members of Sol Driven Train toured the U.S. for a decade, building a dedicated grassroots following. They independently released 10 albums, including 2 albums for children.