Album Review: Erin Enderlin – Whiskeytown Crier

I had a good feeling about this album before I even listened to it – the title and track listing alone was enough to intrigue me since Whiskeytown are one of my all time favourite bands and this album also includes covers of two great country classics. In my head I imagined this would be the soundtrack to some alcohol drenched evening in a honky tonk and that’s what I got. Erin Enderlin’s voice is world weary but wise, and Whiskeytown Crier is the work of a sharp-eyed storyteller. 

The Whiskeytown Crier is a fictional newspaper, telling tales of small town life. There is also a double meaning here too – in these sad country songs crying is never far away. The intro is from a rough sounding cowboy, explaining how sooner or later we all ‘end up as a headline’. There’s no mention of social media or other such modern concerns, so this album feels a little out of time and is all the better for it.

Caroline is a tale of lost innocence, teen pregnancy and shame. This has a bluesy and dark feel, ending in murder. Baby Sister is more upbeat and rocky in sound even though it’s another song about murder – this time a woman shoots a man who wrongs her. The whole thing reeks of alcohol and somebody ends up in jail, she sings, setting the tone for the rest of the record.

Ain’t it Just Like A Cowboy hits right at the heart. You could imagine any major star of the last forty years singing this classic heartbreaker (in fact I had to google it just to check that it wasn’t a cover). The idea of women being left behind, abandoned by their love is the first real universal truth in the album. There’s no murder here, except what happens to your heart.

The Blues are Alive and Well has an 80s country feel to it, a power ballad with some steel guitar. I’m living proof that heartbreak still sells, she sings ruefully. Home Sweet Home to Me is a love letter to the south celebrating fiddle, pedal steel, fireflies and cotton mills.

The Coldest in Town brings in Randy Houser for a classic sounding duet, his gravelly tone adding to the textures of this jukebox of sad songs. An album with this title had to have at least one drinking song and Whole Nother Bottle of Wine is a fine addition to the oeuvre. Broken deals with the impact and pain of a problematic family history. It’s a poignant moment and the saddest story on this album.

The album finishes with a cover of Tammy Wynette’s favourite song, Til I Can Make it On My Own. This is the kind of glitzy show-stopping ballad that there’s not enough of in modern country music anymore. Tammy sang them so well because she lived them. You hope Erin Enderlin hasn’t felt the same despair, but this nod to country music’s past shows her understanding of what makes a great song.

My only criticism of this album is that Erin Enderlin is such a good storyteller by the end I’m not sure I know much more about her personally than I did when I started listening. Maybe this album concept didn’t lend itself to confessional songwriting but I would like to hear a little more about her real life next time.

When you open up the Whiskeytown Crier you might read stories of Southern life that you’ve heard in different ways many times before, but that just makes them more vividly real. Erin Enderlin spins these yarns with real classic country charm.

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