It’s the kind of story that merits a pretty great country song — but not the kind about beer and trucks and flags and horses and heartbreak and divorces and/or any of the other tropes people all too often associate with the genre. No, this would be the kind of country song telling the extraordinary true story about a real woman finding — well into full-grown adulthood, no less — her voice as an artist and with it a brand new sense of purpose in life. It’s the kind of story that merits the kind of country song that a woman like Leslie Waugh might write and sing, because it’s her story.
And who knows? Maybe Leslie herself will get around to writing that song, someday. But she hasn’t just yet, because she’s too busy living it in real time. Hard as it is for Leslie herself to believe, she’s been a songwriter now for nearly 20 years, and perhaps with another decade or two of getting used to it she’ll feel ready to distill it all into one big song. But for now she’s still enthralled by the joy she finds in using her voice to capture even the smallest experiences of everyday life into snapshots of verse and melody. Snapshots like the ones collected on each volume of Vignettes from a Woman’s Serenade, the trilogy of EPs she launched in the spring of 2022, continued with Volume II later that December and caps — at least for now! — with the September 29, 2023 release of Volume III.
“I always saw them as a trilogy, but, being a woman — I reserve the right to change my mind!” Waugh offers with a laugh.
“Every one of these songs is just a little, separate story,” she continues. “They’re all just little snippets of life, love, disappointment, happiness, whatever life might be. They’re usually character driven, and even if it may not always be my truth, it could be somebody else’s truth — and it’s always from a woman’s perspective.”
Each EP features four new Waugh originals, with the full dozen collectively showcasing her ever-evolving growth and confidence as a writer in the wake of her 2011 debut, The White Cat Sessions, and its critically acclaimed follow-up, 2014’s Lloyd Maines and Terri Hendrix produced On.Ward. All three Vignettes EPs were mixed and mastered by Pat Manske, who also co-produced and recorded the second and third volumes at The Zone in Dripping Springs, Texas. Waugh produced the first volume herself at her home studio in Houston, after sessions for what was supposed to be her third full-length hit an impasse.
“I had started a project with someone in the Austin area, who brought in some really good people to play on it, but I ended up pulling the plug in the eleventh hour because I realized we were no where near being on the same page as far as what I wanted the album to sound like,” she says. “It made me really sad but it just wasn’t feeling right. So I let all those songs we’d worked on sit for awhile, but I really wanted to salvage something from that experience, so finally my husband and I pulled up the tracks in my home studio and started peeling back the layers of the onion. I found four of the songs I thought we could save, so I had a guitar player come in to lay down some new parts, and then we remixed and remastered them into what became the first EP. But for the next two EPs I worked with Pat at the Zone, starting from scratch. It just made me feel better to start fresh.”
Although the four songs she picked for the first EP felt right together — and were indeed all worth “salvaging” — her decision to build Volume II and III from the ground up with Manske lends each a distinct thematic and complete sonic vision. It’s no coincidence that all of the songs on Volume II have “heart” in the title, beginning most appropriately with the standout “Map of Your Heart.” Matters of the heart and human connection factor prominently across Volume III, too, but all four songs on that collection (“Uncommon Cowboy,” “A Kinder Man,” “Lost My Heart in Dallas,” and “Sweetheart of Your Rodeo”) share more of a pronounced country and western theme — not to mention the outstanding accordion playing of special guest Josh Baca, of Los Texmaniacs and the Hot Tamales fame. “When Pat brought Josh in, that really helped set the tone for the whole thing,” she enthuses.
The “wow” factor of hearing any of her songs, let alone a whole recording project, graced by the playing of a Grammy-nominated musician of Baca’s caliber isn’t lost on Leslie, but this certainly wasn’t the first time she’s had that honor. She still can’t help but marvel at the surreal fact that the very first time she ever played one of her songs live, she was accompanied onstage by legendary guitar player (and Grammy-winning producer) Lloyd Maines. Come to think of it, that was also actually the very first song she ever even wrote. Which brings us back around to the aforementioned story of how Leslie Waugh (then Leslie Krafka) first found her better-late-than-never calling as a Texas troubadour. All thanks in no small part to a dream tropical vacation that never was.
“It was going to be my 20th wedding anniversary, and I’d been telling my now ex-husband, ‘I really want to go to Hawaii!’ But he decided that instead of us going to Hawaii, I was going to go to a songwriter workshop in Port Arthur, Texas, for the weekend with Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines.” She pauses to laugh. “I was like, ‘OK ... what? Why can’t you just give me what I asked for?”
Now, for the record, Hendrix and Maines were already two of Leslie’s very favorite performers, especially on the Americana and independent Texas music scene. But she had only ever been a fan. She hadn’t sung anything since middle school choir, had never played a guitar or any other instrument, and had definitely never given any thought to the idea writing songs