WEST, TEXAS — Singer-songwriter Donna Beckham is the powerhouse behind a new album called "In the Meantime" that comes out March 7. The stories that inspired the songs take you on a heart-rending ride that arrives at a joyful journey.
"Music is a powerful thing. It can help you say those things that you just don't have the words for. It's just a powerful thing," said Donna.
She's the All-American girl Tom Petty wrote about. Blazing a trail through "West comma Texas," as she calls it, in a grey Pontiac but with a personality as colorful as they come.
"How was it growing up here?" asked KXXV Anchor Lindsay Liepman.
"It was amazing and, of course, that's all I know. Growing up in a small town. Just right here is where we used to cruise the drag. We'd sneak in here and do what teenagers do," said Donna.
A small crowd gathers at Mynar's Bar downtown, her family's place as we talk about how Jesus and Waylon Jennings saved her life.
"I pulled out this record and I thought. 'Wow!'" said Donna describing an afternoon at her grandparent's house. Turned out, her strict Catholic grandparents had good taste in music. It was the day Donna discovered music.
"Then I put the record on and round and round the record went. I want to tell you a story about a Harper Valley widowed wife. I listened to that record 20, 25 times that day," said Donna.
But it wasn't until after high school she joined a band at her friend Buck Uptmor's urging.
"It was my buddy Buck who got this whole thing started for me," she said.
Donna hit the highway. Moved to Nashville to make her first album and as the years strummed by, so did the music. Four albums, a marriage of 20 years and small-town life was her story. Until the page turned.
"I dropped to my knees and I cried and I cried out, 'Why is this happening?'" recalls Donna.
The explosion in West killed Buck and 14 other life-long friends. Her marriage ended and she buried her own father all within a few years.
"I lost who I was in all of that," she said.
But after losing so much, she never lost her faith. Donna kept singing in church and in bars. Kindred spirit and fellow West resident James "Slim" Hand once said he'll never write a song about the explosion and Donna can relate.
"The explosion is way too deep within me to get that out," she said.
But on the new album is a Chris Low song about the explosion called "Shaken not Stirred."
"Music is a powerful thing. It can help you say those things that you just don't have the words for," she said.
"In the Meantime" is her most personal album ever.
"In the totality of it all it is kind of a love letter to where you're from and who you are and the people who love country music, so it's your ability to give that love out," said Liepman.
"And who hasn't dealt with those things. In our case, it was losing part of our community," Donna pauses for a moment as she tries to hold back tears.
The shoulder she leans on most is Jennifer Cooper.
"She's been there. She's there all the time. Good times. Bad times. She pats me on the shoulder when I need it. Had a beer when we needed it. She's just a good good friend," said Jennifer.
Both wore the Miss West Fest crowns and the modern day Thelma and Louise wrote an anthem of their friendship for the album.
"Just don't drive off the cliff," said Liepman.
"No. No. We're jumping head first, just not off any ledge," said Donna laughing.
For now, they'll toast to good music, good friends and the good life.
"Whether it's singing in the bars or singing someone to their final resting place, that's my job. God gave me this gift and I've learned not to take it for granted. I will go wherever He's directing me to go and it's been a great journey," said Donna.
The album release party is March 2 at the West Station Roadhouse at 7 p.m. There's no cover charge and it's open to the public.
"In the Meantime" comes out March 7.
You can learn more about Donna's music on her website.
"Texas Voices" features the artists, musicians and creatives in our great state.