ALBUM REVIEW: Cassadee Pope – ‘Stages’

Have you heard one of Billboard’s much-anticipated albums of 2019 yet? 

Stages, by Florida native Cassadee Pope, is the second CD she’s released since winning Season 3 of NBC’s The Voice in 2012. Released independently, since Pope parted ways with Universal Music Group, Stages charts the upheavals of heartbreak and the euphoria of new love, in a crossover pop country sort of way.

Pope appeared at C2C in March 2017 and although I was there, I don’t remember seeing her performances. I recall Chris Young’s moment, and indeed the track she joined him on stage for, Think of You, is one of my favourites from his album (and it hit the number one spot in the summer of 2017). 

But with a music career since being in rock band Hey Monday in 2008, and a busy touring and performing schedule since going solo in 2011, she doesn’t seem to have spent much time soaking up the Florida Sun. Indeed, after the Facebook launch of Stages (excellent marketing touch), Pope is hitting the road with Maren Morris and heading up CMT’s Next Women of Country series.

The first two tracks from Stages, Take you Home and One More Red Light, were released in 2018, and I’ve actually heard both of them before.  Take you Home is a compelling RnB number, showcasing Pope’s trademark power vocals – think Ballerini and Nettles.  The story suggests finding the one: “I wanna take you home/And I ain’t talking about a two-mile ride back to my place”.

The excitement of new love, where traffic isn’t a hindrance, on One More Red Light is perhaps the most country sounding song, thanks to an appearance of the up tempo banjo.   

The third track, How I Feel Right Now – seems to nod to early rock days.  Listening to this song I, too, am “more than okay”, but as for “happy hour tipsy on a Monday”… not quite there yet. 

The first of a few break up songs, Bring Me Down Town, is up next, where the protagonist recognises the futility of a an ex-relationship.  Remember before downloads we all had albums where not every track was as repeat-worthy as we’d hoped?  Yeah, that.

But it’s the new single from the album, If My Heart Had A Heart, which pushes Pope’s talent to centre stage. The song offers echoes of an up tempo Tin Man, and is certainly arena-worthy: “It would cut me some slack/Have my back/It Would give me a break”.  I’ve listened to this a fair few times, and I’ll continue to do so.  

FYI is an open letter to the partner of an ex boyfriend: “I thought that you should know that you’re not the only one on his mind … Sorry, I’m not sorry/It’s not my problem anymore”, and alongside track 7, Distracted offers more pop vocal harmonies. Think upbeat Friday night drive home from work car dancing.

And then we have an interlude with Gavi.  A beautiful piano solo tribute to the late musician, Jason Gaviati.

Pope’s vocals and heartbreak are back with Don’t Ask Me: “I could say I’m doing all right that I’m happy with the new guy but you know it when I lie” and “Don’t even question if I still question the way that we left everything because the answer may not be the one that you want to hear.”

Still Got it isn’t bad, and is more upbeat and less about heartache, signposting towards a more hopeful and uplifting album finish: “If you wonder where my heart is, if you still want it, you still got it.”

The final song, I’ve been good, plays with an over-familiar expression that we all use, even if perhaps we’re only telling half the truth – meeting an ex in an ordinary situation, saying you’ve been good.  Good at drinking whiskey. Good at hiding how bad you’re feeling.

Stages is an album with potential, and will definitely warm up your CD player/streaming device as we await Spring. Some tracks I’d skip (FYI), some I’d press the repeat button for (If my Heart Had A Heart). Pope sums it up herself when she says she’s all over the place when it comes to music, which is a little of what this album feels like. But there is undeniable talent.

I’m looking forward to hearing Cassadee’s musical direction settling down and building on her clear talent, so that we can hear more songs like Take You Home, One More Red Light, and, of course, If My Heart Had A Heart. 

Have I mentioned how much I like this single? 

Emma Jordan
@dgtlwriter