ALBUM REVIEW: Caylee Hammack – ‘If It Wasn’t For You’

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Caylee Hammack has been steadily gaining fans through her honest and meaningful songwriting for the past few years, and is now a firm part of the amazing female country artist community. Her hard work is clearly beginning to pay off and last week Hammack released ‘If It Wasn’t For You’, her first major label release. The album is a collection of thirteen songs that really reveal who Hammack is as an artist, and a songwriter.

These songs take you on a journey of Hammack’s life from her rural beginning, to Ellaville, Georgia, to her more recent move to Nashville which came about after a bad break-up. Make no mistake that this honesty, wit and fieriness of Hammack makes the album one of 2020’s best records.

The record opens with bold and brass ‘Just Friends’. The first verse starts with an acoustic guitar and simple vocal which then kick-starts into a feisty song about a regretted relationship. Here, Hammack’s personality really shines through and you get a sense of a real story behind the lyrics. This is a real feat, considering the song comes in at a short 2 minutes 50 seconds.

“Every song on this record has a true story behind it, and I can’t wait to tell those stories once people listen to the album!”

This personality is heard throughout the album, and on ‘Just Like You’, we hear almost rap-style of vocals from Hammack. This song has a real blues bass line that give the song a modern feel, with a strong country twang; an effortless blend, and one that will please a wide range of fans.

Listeners may also enjoy the duet with Reba McEntire, ‘Redhead’, which is fast-becoming an anthem for red-heads everywhere. This song has a funkiness to it, paired with some very clever and cheeky lyrics that make the song a real highlight of the album. It is also great to hear both an established legend and an up-and-coming artist coming together for such a powerful moment.

“Reba came into the studio and TRANSFORMED this song. She helped me create an anthem for all redheads. Whether you get it naturally or find it in a bottle, this is for the firecrackers!”

The album mixes with a lot of different genres, and the track ‘King Size Bed’ is much more R&B influenced than the rest of the album. The fast-beat track used give the song a real urgency, perfectly evoking the lyrics of ‘a bomb ticking in a king size bed’. It also features backing vocals, with strong male vocalists giving Hammack’s vocals an added layer. The album generally uses multiple singers throughout, which create lovely sounding harmonies, and give the album such a pleasant sound.

Even though the album has many fast-paced anthems, there are also several softer moments on the record.

‘Forged in the Fire’ is a straight-up country song, which perfectly brings out Hammack’s lush, country-twanged vocals. This song is about rising from the ashes and moving on from pain; a universal topic. Hammack has been very honest in interviews about this record being influenced by a break-up, and here we can really grasp some of the complex emotions that come with life-altering events like this:

“I feel like I’m airing all of my dirty laundry on this album in the hope of others feeling that honesty and vulnerability, and in it, finding a safe haven to be themselves,”

Another soft song on the album is ‘Sister’, which gives a perspective on just how valuable siblingship can be. This song is deeply moving, and captures the highs and lows that two sisters can go through. Despite being such a common feeling, sibling songs from a female perspective are quite rare, so this is great to hear.

In fact, the album is not lacking in female perspectives, and really sets a bar for females in the genre. ‘Mean Something’ is a collaboration with Tenille Townes and Ashley McBryde, and flawlessly showcases three of the best female talents in country music today. The song really allows three very different artists to shine and highlights their desire to ‘mean something’; a big empowerment anthem for all the aspiring female artists and songwriters out there.

By far the most intimate song on the album is ‘Gold’. On this beautifully written solo write, sublime production make Hammack’s vocals shine in a whole new way. This song is Hammack’s most vulnerable on the record and reveals a genuine devastation in her life, saying ‘if pain is hard, you gave me gold’.

This song is immediately followed with closer ‘New Level of Life’, a sharp contrast from Gold. The lyrics here focus on the genuine joy that a break-up has given Hammack in her long-term life, and is a positive and glorious end to a great album.

This album is genuinely superb throughout, but if I had to choose a favourite song then I would select ‘Small Town Hypocrite’. The song has the power to connect to people who feel lost, in the same way that Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Merry Go Round’ did, as it captures a feeling of isolation and regret that is felt by many, not just in small towns but everywhere.  

Overall, this album further cements Hammack as one of the best emerging artists, and makes it easy to see why she has been nominated as ‘ACM New Female Artist of the Year’. Hopefully this album gains a wide audience for a singer with a unique and fiery personality.

Lauren Wyatt
@laurenscountry

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