I’m not sure what you were doing aged twenty nine (or what you plan you be doing if you haven’t got there yet!) but hopefully none of you had/will have the heartbreak of a year experienced by Carly Pearce… or indeed have to live such a year under the glare of the spotlight. As I’m sure you are all well aware her life took a double downward spiral thanks to the sudden passing of her dear friend and producer Busbee alongside her divorce after a short-lived marriage, but as with a lot of artists she found salvation in her songwriting. The result, a collection appropriately titled “29” (released last Friday via Big Machine Records) brings together seven of the most beautifully crafted songs I have heard in a longtime. Vocally this is a masterpiece too, delivered from her very heart and soul as only someone who has lived and learnt from these experiences could do.
If one of Carly’s aims was to put therapists out of business by sharing these songs then I am sure she has succeeded, this is an album which manages to be both very personal (as is all Carly’s writing) and also infinitely relatable to anyone who has had to cope with loss in any of its many forms.
The ultimate type of loss is of course the death of a loved one which is so beautifully expressed in her tribute to Busbee, “Show Me Around”, a song most will have been familiar with already alongside the album’s opening track “Next Girl” which was released as a single last year, a warning to all the ladies out there that her ex won’t change his ways. With “Should’ve Known Better” made available just recently too (when it comes to a relationship breakdown, who hasn’t gone through the stage of self-blame like she does at the start of this one before the realisation hits that she’s the innocent party) we already had a hint of what was in store but I must admit it didn’t prepare me for the remaining songs which were revealed on release day and the impact of hearing this powerful album in it’s entirety.
The track listing takes you through her journey, and as such this album definitely needs to be listened to from top to bottom to fully appreciate each stage of her healing (not unlike Lindsay Ell’s recent release, “Heart Theory”) and it makes me so excited about where Carly’s music is heading. She has always been among the first to admit that Busbee was ultimately a pop producer, and working now with Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne in that capacity (as well as co-writers), all three of them being brought up appreciating the same era of country music in the 90s, has definitely played a big part in moving her sound in that direction.
The title track took my breath away on first listen and continues to do so, it is Carly at her most vulnerable and I just wanted to reach out, give her a hug and reassure her that things will be ok as she sings about the dichotomy between her expectations and reality of her life at this pivotal age when “you’re supposed to find yourself, start drinking whiskey from a higher shelf, stop calling your mom for help”. Yes, it was the “year I was going to live it up, now I’m never going to live it down”. And what aching fiddle accompaniment (courtesy of award winning Jenee Fleenor I understand?) as if the lyrics and Carly’s vocal delivery weren’t enough to rip you heart out…
Thank goodness for the uplifting closing song “Day One” , another which instantly hit me particularly hard, which sees Carly looking to the future with positivity and a stronger sense of self-identity. She is finally convinced that “You’ll just be someone I knew if I just get through day one“… yes, closure won’t happen overnight, each day will bring its own challenges, something she also tells us about earlier on in the collection with “Messy”. There’ll be good days mixed with bad, you may well drink far too much, send text messages you’ll later regret (haven’t we all been there?) and think you’re ready to move on when you are far from that point, but ultimately you need to cut yourself some slack as the process takes its course, “it ain’t always gonna be a clean break and it’s ok“.
And of course a Carly album wouldn’t be complete without a bit of sass, cue the preceding track “Liability” with its very clever wordplay around the title in which she realises she’s being cheated on. A partner placing their phone face down is never a good thing, nor is the ‘”no-one” who calls up this late! But she’s going to play along for a while, act dumb and see how far he goes… how good is his “lie-ability?”
2. “Should’ve Known Better” | Carly Pearce, Jordan Reynolds, Emily Shackelton
3. “29” | Carly Pearce, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne
4. “Liability” | Carly Pearce, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne
5. “Messy” | Carly Pearce, Sarah Buxton, Jimmy Robbins*
6. “Show Me Around” | Carly Pearce, Emily Shackelton, Ben West
7. “Day One” | Carly Pearce, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, Matthew RamseyProduced by Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne
*Produced by Jimmy Robbins