Carly Pearce’s 29th year has certainly been a wild ride. Her high-profile split from fellow musician Michael Ray after just eight months of marriage grabbed the headlines, and it has seemingly sparked a whole new chapter for Pearce musically with the release of her new EP, 29, which she says “represents me finding even more about myself musically and personally than I ever thought was possible”.
2020 also saw the loss of her producer and dear friend, busbee, which was incredibly difficult for Pearce to come to terms with, and led to the stunning ‘Show Me Around’, which we’ll come on to later. Subsequently, she welcomed Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne on production duties, and it feels like a match made in heaven. What we have is a collection of songs deeply rooted in the traditions of the genre, both musically and lyrically, and it’s by far Pearce’s finest work to date. She describes herself as a “country music purist”, and she’s certainly true to her word on 29.
The collection kicks off with the delightful, rootsy ‘Next Girl’, a subject matter which doesn’t require too much explaining. One of the best songs on country radio right now, ‘Next Girl’ introduces the wonderfully organic, earthy sound that we hear throughout the record, and it’s one of a few genius lyrical moments on the record. In case you hadn’t guessed from the opening track, she pulls no punches whatsoever when it comes to addressing her divorce; the record is her story in its purest form, and we’re all living in it for 22 minutes.
Pearce has said that she’s unsure whether there’ll be another radio single from the project, but if there is, ‘Should’ve Known Better’ feels like a hit-in-waiting. Written with Jordan Reynolds and long-time collaborator Emily Shackleton (‘Every Little Thing’), it’s a moment of acceptance that she went down the wrong path, whilst also standing tall and sending a message to her ex that he’s missing out. It’s a great representation of the project as a whole; there’s a deep regret and sadness, whilst also maintaining a cheekiness and self-confidence to leave the past in the past.
The title track ‘29’ is a huge highlight – there won’t be a more heartbreaking song released in 2021. It’s quite shocking on the initial listen when you realise just how transparent Pearce’s songcraft is here; she bears her soul and leaves nothing under wraps. “The year I was gonna live it up… now I’m never gonna live it down” – brutal writing that tugs on the heartstrings. You almost want to reach out and give her a hug – it’s certainly one to get you on the side of ‘Team Carly’, if you weren’t already a member. Another fine example of the magic that Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne and Carly Pearce can create.
The follow-up to lighten the mood is ‘Liability’, completely at the other end of the spectrum. This one’s firmly in the ‘moving on’ stage, and is quite simply a savage (and rather quirky) recollection of what went wrong. “Your love’s become a lie-ability”, Pearce sings as she comes to terms with her situation and gives a defiant attack on her ex’s alleged ‘choices’, shall we say. A definite fan favourite, and one that Pearce will no doubt relish the opportunity to perform live.
‘Messy’ is another potential radio hit, and one that will resonate with anyone in that post-relationship confusion stage. Written with established hit-makers Sarah Buxton and Jimmy Robbins, it sees Pearce trying to work her way out of the bewilderment and loneliness, sending texts she regrets and drowning her sorrows in cabernet, accepting that “moving on is messy”.
As the record draws to a close, ‘Show Me Around’ hits you like a tonne of bricks. Written in the aftermath of busbee’s passing, with Emily Shackleton and Ben West, ‘Show Me Around’ sees Pearce longing to be reunited with the late producer one day, asking him to be ready to give her a tour of heaven when she gets there. A beautiful, homely picture of heaven that will strike a chord with anyone who’s lost a loved one.
The final track, ‘Day One’, was originally recorded by Pat Green back in 2016, but you’ll find Pearce on the writing credits as there have been lyrical alterations. It fits this record perfectly, with Pearce maintaining that defiance and inner strength, whilst finding her way out of the pain and suffering caused by the divorce. It’s a fitting, emotional end to a stunning project.
As far as mainstream country releases go, you won’t find a braver, more forthright collection. Pearce truly wears her heart on her sleeve and bares all, which is the epitome and the biggest compliment of an accomplished country songwriter. If this sets the tone for what to expect in the future from Pearce, we’re in for plenty more treats to come, and it feels like a giant leap into a whole new chapter for her in terms of quality and vulnerability.