Megan McCormick's debut record may be titled "Honest Words," but her guitar is saying plenty without so much as a syllable.
After moving to Alaska when she was 14, McCormick played a year with local bluegrass institution Barefoot Bluegrass and was ready for East Tennessee State University's renowned bluegrass and country music program by 16.
"I applied for a scholarship when I applied for admission," McCormick, now 23, said. "I was awarded the scholarship before I even asked my mom if I could go."
After making the Nashville plunge, McCormick's music evolved into the love child of Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Ray Vaughan with a more finely honed pop sensibility.
"Honest Words" is a varied record filled with full-on rock songs, country/pop ballads and bluesy jams in obscure time signatures.
"I just write stuff and bring it in to the band," McCormick said.
The title track shows off her prowess as a singer-songwriter, while songs like "Drifting" pay homage to Hendrix in a less cheesy fashion than, say, John Mayer.
Staying true to Nashville, McCormick opts mainly for Fender Telecasters, giving her guitar tone a touch of country even when her music ventures into rock territory.
"When I started playing, I was a huge fan of (Jimi) Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, then I went into my David Grier phase," McCormick said. "It's been a long time since I've geeked out on any particular guitarist though."
"Do Right" is the kind of pop song that a mass radio audience might equate with a more nuanced Taylor Swift number but shows more self-reflection in its lyrics than any Disney-owned music property could possibly muster: "I can't remember what I came to forget / so I must be doing something right."
McCormick's voice is smoky and smooth, without an ounce of twang or drawl (she was born in Idaho).
Despite the classic scarf occasionally hanging from her guitar strap, her look is modern as her sound, quasi-pompadour coiffure and all.
The rock star sneer looks particularly natural too.
"My songs reflect a deep look inward as well as the world around me," McCormick said on her MySpace page.
"I find inspiration sometimes in my guitar, on a street corner or even in a lover. The new album will touch on love, family, addiction and the never-ending search for self-understanding."
Grammy Award-winner Dave O'Donnell produced the new record. O'Donnell worked with the likes of Morrissey, Ray Charles and James Taylor, and the album's polish reflects his experience.
McCormick wants to make a trip back to Alaska for a show but doesn't currently have one planned.
"Right now the goal is to get the record some radio play, but I'd love to come up and have the band see Alaska," McCormick said.
"My parents still live in Wasilla and I get back to visit about once a year. I try and come back in the summer -- it's a little hard to handle the winters."
'Honest Words' Will be released physically and digitally on Aug. 17.