I’ve noticed a recent trend in country music for songs about how hard it is to make in Nashville – like ‘This Town is Killing Me’ by Caitlyn Smith, ‘Dreams Don’t Come True’ by Angaleena Presley and ‘Ten Year Town’ by Hailey Whitters. Honest thoughts about the crushing reality of pursuing success are also recurring themes on this new album ‘Too Mean To Die’ by Karly Driftwood. Her dreams haven’t come true, not even close, but maybe that just gives her something to sing about.
On the opening song After Hours she’s living in a nightmarish hellscape of a city. I don’t want to be another zombie / I just want to find something real, she sings after enduring another vapid party. Despite her depression she still keeps searching for meaning in her life.
Musically the album has some nice light country instrumentation, in an early Kacey Musgraves style. Driftwood’s feminine voice is a strength even if sometimes she sounds a little like (whisper it) Taylor Swift. Fear not – she’s like the alternate universe Swift or her rebellious younger sister who doesn’t give a fuck. Either way the lyrical results are far more interesting than anything Taylor has ever come up with.
On ‘Ain’t Even Close’ she sings wistfully of the way her life has diverged from expectations. It’s a really thoughtful assessment of who she is and is one of the solo writes on the record. Many of the other songs were co-written with Deren Ney and Davis Corley. Bake You A Cake is a riotous kiss-off to an ex. There’s some sweet fiddle on this one to go with the broken glass and cyanide. Dodged a Bullet uses similar lighthearted humour to good effect.
Tennessee Trees starts with the sound of pills being popped before launching into a bluegrass style song about medicating yourself with country music and weed. She claims to be ‘A little country, a little Sylvia Plath’ and you can hear both in the dark, dry humour of her music.
The central reveal, if you like, of the album is the song Stripped My Way To Nashville. Here we learn of the sacrifices Driftwood has made to try and make it. She didn’t have a rich father to buy her a record label, or connections in the industry to help her out. It ain’t free to chase the dream. There’s no sugar coating the hardship of the hustle.
The saddest songs on the record are Settle for Being Used and Jaded to The Bone, where she deals with her failing relationships. She admits to hating love songs and maybe that’s why this album sounds so refreshing real. Despite her pain, the music is delivered with a sunnily sarcastic smile.
Karly Driftwood is a straight taking, yet sensitive bad ass who is too smart to play on any musical or lyrical outlaw country cliches. She tells her own stories, in her own way and this unflinching realism is what makes Too Mean To Die such a rewarding listen.