It seems incongruous for Margaret Durante to include “Whiskey and a Gun” on “Maybe Tonight,” her four-song, digital-only debut EP, co-produced by James Stroud and Stephony Smith and released in April on Emrose/R&J Records. (Her full album debut follows later this year.) Written by Lisa Carver, the song tells a tale involving murder, revenge, prison and other grim topics. It even ends on Death Row, right after the hapless protagonist’s execution has begun.
After all, Durante is an engaging personality onstage, with a playful lilt often brightening her vocals. She grew up not in the shadows of Sing Sing but in Potomac, Md., where her entertainment career began at age 5 as she played Tinker Bell at a Peter Pan Bus Company promotional party. She heard and learned from her father’s Frank Sinatra albums and her mother’s Mary Chapin Carpenter and Bonnie Raitt discs, and eventually left Clemson University in South Carolina to seek her fortunes in Nashville.
These experiences instilled in Durante a mix of professionalism and upbeat demeanor, which serves her well on her first single, the title track to this EP. She wrote “Maybe Tonight” with Blair Daly and Rachel Proctor, and sings it with a buoyant feeling of light-hearted romance. (The video for “Maybe Tonight” topped “GAC’s Top 20 Country Countdown” list of fan-voted favorites for two consecutive weeks as of late July.)
But Durante’s voice adapts well to other types of lyrics too. “Paper Chains,” by Durante and Connie Harrington, applies her knack for writing and phrasing a strong melody to a medium-tempo, four-beat groove and a story about breaking free from a shattered relationship. And on the ballad “Better,” by Dave Berg, Deanna Bryant and Candy Cameron, she peers through shades of despair and finds hope on the horizon, far away but guiding her along.
That takes us back to “Whiskey and a Gun,” where Durante ingeniously invests the story with a touch of humor — dark, to be sure, but enough to establish that as a lyric interpreter, she knows what she’s doing and she does it well.
In her own words
DREAM DUET PARTNER
“Frank Sinatra. This is a dream after all.”
“When people say ‘irregardless’ or criticize the strange foods that I like to eat.”
TITLE OF YOUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY
“I Shouldn’t Have Written This Yet.”
SONG YOU WISH YOU HAD WRITTEN
“‘Sweet Home Alabama’ because then I would get KFC commercial placement — and every other commercial, for that matter!”