You can’t help but snicker when someone professes classic country is little else but fuddy duddy stories steeped in wholesome family values. Clearly those people have never listened past Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” to songs like “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad.” Divorce and country music go together like peanut butter and jelly. The “Big D” is as fundamental to country music as steel guitar. And Kentucky songwriter Brit Taylor is here to set you straight, and speak about her own experiences with irreconcilable differences in her debut album called Real Me.
She’s also here to expose the “real” her, not what Nashville would contort her into, like what so many promising and starry-eyed singers and songwriters who hit town full of dreams to exploit ultimately succumb to. In this instance, the real Brit Taylor is an artist who is unapologetic in her influences and appreciation for classic country sounds, whether that’s old school honky tonk, Western Swing, or more Countrypolitan styles with classic folk pop leanings, all of which are found on this new record.
Paired with names like Pat McLaughlin, Jerry Salley, Will Hoge, and most notably Dan Auerbach as co-writers, Brit navigates the difficult and prickly particulars of her personal narrative into songs whose emotions and revelations range from bitterness, to pining, to personal understanding. The songs of Real Me run the cycle of realizing a love is no good to an unfaithful man who can’t pull his own weight, but finding it hard to pull away from the allure that still remains, to the aftermath of leaving, and the search for love once again, only now with a more guarded heart.
Producing the effort is Dave Brainard, known for working with women who lean traditional like Sunny Sweeny and Brandy Clark, and for knowing how to slide in more contemporary sounds to broaden the audience. On Real Me, this includes some percussive elements like the cow bell hits on “Back in the Fire,” the “boom chick” stuff found in the song “Wagon,” and the claves in “Leave Me Tomorrow.”
It’s these elements and other little stylized additions that normally wouldn’t grace an otherwise classic country record that may throw some old school country listeners for a loop. But at the same time, it may be these accoutrements that entice others into the fold, and the approach does separate Real Me from some of the hum drum sameness of some classic country projects. It’s not as heavy as a hand as Dan Auerbach has brought to some of his recent classic-sounding albums he’s produced, but you do notice the production of this record.
True to classic country form, the songs of Real Me never get too singer/songwriter-like, forgoing the overly-poetic meanderings and refrains of some of the worst of self-absorbed east Nashville Americana. It’s the simplicity in the sentiments, and the way they’re paired up smartly with the music that makes these songs appealing. With the longest song coming in at 3:19, Brit Taylor serves you the heart of the orange, and leaves the rind and everything else behind.
Real Me is a classic country heartbreak record. But balancing out songs like the resolute “Married Again” about never wanting to commit to another, there are songs that understand if you aren’t willing to express a little vulnerability or show your true self, you’ll never successfully navigate the battlefield of love, no matter your objective.
Ultimately though, it’s the parallel Brit Taylor draws between divorcing from your partner, and divorcing from the person you tried to be for others that makes for a compelling work speaking to something deeper than just a broken heart and failed marriage. Whether it’s in a committed relationship or country music, if you can’t hold on to yourself and be willing to express it, you’re doomed to fail, no matter how successful things might seem on the surface. It’s better to struggle through life being yourself than it is being someone else for the benefit of others, and remaining in an ever-present state of misery.
Whether it’s the relationship with a loved one, or the relationship with a record label, country artists have been struggling to get it right and be themselves for going on a century. Country singers seem especially susceptible to falling into the messy business of divorce. Brit Taylor speaks to that legacy in Real Me.
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