The Arts

New country music album devoted to work of Hall of Fame Greenport songwriter

It’s funny how heartache can lift one’s spirits.

Then again, if that heartache is contained in a newly released album consisting exclusively of your songs, well, that explains a lot.

That’s the case with Greenport-based country music songwriter Hugh Prestwood. An album of 15 of Mr. Prestwood’s songs, written over the course of the past 30 years, was released Aug. 14. The unusual match of a British singer, Rumer, and Mr. Prestwood’s skill for tapping into human emotion, came together in “Nashville Tears.”

“I think it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to my career,” Mr. Prestwood, 78, told The Suffolk Times in an interview.

And that’s saying something. Mr. Prestwood made a name for himself with a multitude of honors and awards. Most notably, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. He won BMI Country Song of the Year for “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart” and a Nashville Songwriters Association Song of the Year award for “The Song Remembers When.” His first No. 1 country hit came in 1983 when Crystal Gayle recorded “The Sound of Goodbye.” It was nominated for a Grammy.

Judy Collins, Randy Travis and Trisha Yearwood are among the artists Mr. Prestwood has worked with, but he had never heard of Rumer before this project. As it turned out, the Nashville outsider’s voice was just right for Mr. Prestwood’s music.

The original idea for an album of sad songs emanating from Nashville was simplified when album producer Fred Mollin sent Rumer one of Mr. Prestwood’s songs, “Oklahoma Stray.” She liked what she heard. A new plan was devised for the album to be entirely devoted to a collection of Mr. Prestwood’s songs. Mr. Prestwood said the album is a good representation of his work.

“I think it’s a masterpiece,” Mr. Mollin said of the finished product in a phone interview.

Mr. Prestwood, born in El Paso, Texas, said he was 5 or 6 when he heard a song on the radio that impacted him. “I was so moved by it I almost couldn’t sleep,” he said.

Mr. Prestwood didn’t begin writing songs until he was in his mid-20s. He moved to Greenport, of all places, in 1983 to pursue his country music career. “I had never met another songwriter,” he said. “I was mostly self-taught.”

Mr. Prestwood said he visits Nashville several times a year, but remains in Greenport because he likes the village, which offers a conducive songwriting environment for him. Unlike in Nashville, where writers often collaborate on songs, Mr. Prestwood works alone. He takes his time, writing about one song a month (he estimates he has written 400 songs in his career). It has been theorized that Mr. Prestwood’s songwriting has a distinctive nature because he does it away from Nashville.

“The music comes easy, very easy,” he said. “It’s the lyrics. I always say the lyrics are like me trying to do a New York Times crossword puzzle.”

What is Mr. Prestwood driving for when he writes music?

“I’m trying to move myself because I want to turn myself on,” he said, adding: “I used to say that every year or maybe longer sometimes, I’d hear a song that would just kill me that someone else wrote. So my goal is to do that myself. I’m going to write a song that just kills me myself.”

Mr. Mollin, who is based in Nashville and hails from Merrick, has been a fan of Mr. Prestwood’s work for years.

“I’m a song person,” Mr. Mollin said. “I’m a writer as well as an arranger and a producer, and I’ve been around great songwriters all my life, and that’s one of the joys of my life, and I think what Hugh writes and how he writes is really in the same vein as the great songwriters who aren’t in the country world.”

Reviews of “Nashville Tears” have been rich in high praise. The album debuted on the Billboard country chart at No. 23, said Mr. Prestwood.

“The combination of Rumer’s crystalline voice and Hugh Prestwood’s songs results in some breathtaking, deeply moving music,” The Associated Press wrote.

Could this album garner some awards?

“That would be wonderful,” Mr. Mollin said, “but listen, we made the album because once you start working with Rumer, it’s all about the art and it’s never about the commerce. Although it would be nice to make money, we are all about making art, and that’s the truth.”

Mr. Prestwood said: “It’s really kind of a throwback record, certainly not what country sounds like now. I’m really delighted with the reaction it’s getting. I have no idea what will ultimately transpire, but boy, I think it’s really something I’m really proud of.”

Hardly sad stuff, after all.