Album Review: Carly Pearce – 29: Written in Stone

During the recent nominations ceremony for the upcoming Grammy awards there was one notable absentee from the country categories – Carly Pearce. Perhaps her snub was even more obvious since they’d invited her to present some of the nominations on the telecast, which is usually an indication of future success. Many fans took to twitter to highlight the injustice, underlining the fact that, with or without award nominations, 2021 has been a fantastic year for the woman from Kentucky.

While Carly’s first two albums were enjoyable listens, showing some real promise there was still something missing for me, something that would elevate her above all the other identikit pop leaning country singers. Carly was already an Opry member, she had worked for years at Dollywood, she was on paper a true country singer and yet her music didn’t really stand out in the modern market.

Her first two albums were produced by busbee and after his death she could have found herself adrift musically or leaving the genre altogether for pop like so many women have done in the recent past. Instead what Pearce has done is build on her strengths, smartly employing the talents of producers Shane McInally and Josh Osbourne to bring out an authentic and engaging country sound.

Her inspirations for this new record were Patty Loveless, The Judds, Loretta Lynn and The Chicks amongst others. By moving away from trying to emulate others in the contemporary market she’s actually found a style all of her own.

The other part of her narrative this year is that these songs explore the fall out from her recent divorce. It’s a brave choice to lean in to the emotion, to feel the hurt, to be raw enough to spill her heart out. Country music has a history of women who sang their truth but in recent times, especially in the Instagram age, women have been expected to present a perfect, crack free existence. Even divorce albums like Star Crossed and The Weight of These Wings avoided assigning blame. The Chicks went for the jugular on Gaslighter but they existed before social media, so their brand wasn’t made on selling an image like young country stars are expected to do now.

What makes 29 (Written in Stone) so interesting then is that Pearce is willing to go to honest and personal places behind that beautiful veneer.

Released as a six song EP at the start of the year it offered brilliant songs like Next Girl and Liability which were confident and catchy character assassinations of her ex, complete with her mocking brocountry’s use of ‘girl’. Should’ve Known Better and 29 were thoughtful, introspective musings on her own personal problems, aided by great melodies. Messy, Show You Around and Day One dealt with the aftermath and recovery from her breakup. The latter was particularly strong and felt like her vocals began to really convey a depth of emotion she hadn’t reached before as a singer.

29 (Written in Stone) expands her EP to a full album length and the new songs add further depth and quality to the record. Diamondback is a brilliant beginning, bringing personality and sass to her sound. What He Didn’t Do conveys a softer sadness in her voice in a really moving way.

The two real stand out songs are both collaborations with other women in country music. Firstly Dear Miss Loretta with Patty Loveless is a stunningly great tribute to the Coal Miner’s Daughter herself, asking the icon for some help and advice on her marriage troubles. Loretta herself endured a troubled marriage when standing by your man was expected. Her and Tammy would no doubt be proud of Carly for getting the hell out and writing such great songs in the process.

The other duet Never Wanted to Be That Girl, with Ashley McBryde, casts her unwittingly in the Jolene role. What is refreshing about this song is that they are able to offer compassion for the other woman, rather than blaming each other for a man’s mistakes like some of the country music hits from the past.

The Grammys may have overlooked this artist but her CMA win for Female Artist of the Year, along with ending up on the Best of 2021 lists for Rolling Stone and Billboard amongst others suggests this is her breakthrough moment. Women in country music need Carly Pearce to succeed and on this evidence she has all the quality and star power needed to do just that for a long while to come.

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