Whenever I hear of a country music star splitting up from their significant other, I’m always faced with a slight dilemma; I’m obviously very sorry it’s not worked out for them and hope they find happiness, but there’s always a tiny bit of me that knows there’s nothing more fertile for an artist than trauma and pain for producing great music. Carly Pearce has had a tumultuous couple of years, and the result of all of this heartache is 29: Written In Stone, the brilliant fully fleshed out version of her original EP 29 (read our review here).
The Kentucky native and former Dollywood performer channelled the pain and disappointment of seeing her producer and friend busbee lose his fight against cancer, and her marriage to fellow country artist Michael Ray fall apart into an album that’s as honest as it is heart-breaking and a contender for one of the best of the year.
An artists second or third album has traditionally by its very nature always been trickier to put together, simply by dint of having a lot less time to put together than the ‘whole life experience up to now’ first. Modern female country artists who head to Nashville and experience success in the country format are sometimes encouraged by their record company, or management, or guided by country radio to go in a more poppier direction for their next album. Carly has done the opposite and gone full blown country for this project. Pedal steel and fiddle have their fingerprints all over this album, and any album containing a song called Dear Miss Loretta is never going to be anything other than country to the core. Having country royalty and fellow Kentuckian Patty Loveless on the song only serves to elevate it even higher. It’s a song about yet another Kentucky native and country music legend Loretta Lynn, what her music means to Carly, and how it makes her feel after her divorce.
Your songs were all fun ’til I lived them myself… she sings, a nod to the pain she’s been through.
…. I ain’t a coal miner’s daughter
But I’ve sung it all my life
I ain’t been a widow
But I’ve been an ex-wife
If there’s a more country lyric than that this year I’ve yet to hear it.
Songs like Diamondback, What He Didn’t Do and Next Girl are brutal take downs that leave the listener in no doubt about how she feels about her ex-husband.
I’m already halfway over him and I ain’t taking time to turn around
So I’ma take the high road, even though we both know
I could run him out of this town
From What He Didn’t Do, and
He’ll charm your mama with that smile
Hide the red flags for a little while
From Next Girl are savage. I just hope Michael doesn’t get curious and have a listen.
The centrepiece of the record is the gut-wrenching 29, followed by the fabulous Never Wanted To Be That Girl with Ashley McBryde.
29 is as honest a song as I’ve heard in a long long time. A pour-your-heart-out-and-don’t-care-who’s-listening tragedy that leaves nothing unsaid. The courage it takes to write and release something as personal and revealing as this is something I hugely admire. Three chords and the truth personified in three minutes and 42 seconds. Once you’ve recovered from that you’re treated to my other favourite song on the album, a co-write and duet with the fabulous Ashley McBryde. Never Wanted To Be That Girl is told from the perspective of ‘the other woman’ after she finds out the guy she’s seeing is married, and how that makes her feel. The two singers voices complement each other brilliantly, and although there’s no obvious country instrumentation other than a slide guitar, it’s unmistakably country.
Your Drinkin’, My Problem, Liability and Day One are all more upbeat kiss-off songs while Messy, Show Me Around, All The Whiskey In The World and Mean It This Time finish off the album in a more sombre tone.
Carly Pearce is credited as a songwriter on all 15 tracks of the album, and the fact it’s been formed following devastation and pain has only served to make it more real, more relatable. I wish Carly all the luck in the world moving forwards, she deserves every bit of credit she’ll undoubtedly get, but if this is what she creates when she’s suffered then I hope it’s not too harsh of me to hope it’s not all plain sailing.