Apparently, Carly Pearce did not get the memo. Her career is going in the exact opposite direction than it’s supposed to be at this point. The script says that if you’re a mainstream country starlet that shows early promise in maintaining a little bit of country roots in your sound, as soon as you see some initial success, you’re supposed careen straight into full blown pop while denouncing country as limiting to your creativity, and break the hearts of all of your true blue country fans.
But Carly Pearce has called an audible, and gone off the rails by bucking the status quo and making actual country music in the country music mainstream. An EP released earlier this year called 29 is where she took the initial steps away from the country pop sensibilities of her earlier efforts, and after she found such positive reception (it’s been nominated for CMA Album of the Year), she decided to double down on this endeavor, and luckily her label allowed it.
Now called 29: Written In Stone, the album includes the seven songs from the earlier EP, as well as eight new ones, giving you almost an entire new album of material, cooling most any criticism of rehashing the same stuff twice. And if anything, the new additions to the project are even more cutting, and more country than the initial songs. Carly Pearce isn’t soft pedaling her move toward becoming a country traditionalist, she mashing the accelerator, and doing so unapologetically.
With many of the new songs, you don’t have to qualify them as being “country-sounding for the mainstream” or “good for a mainstream artist.” Forget all that. Her tribute to the Coal Miner’s Daughter and fellow Kentuckian “Dear Miss Loretta” sung with Patty Loveless is stone cold country regardless of what side of Nashville it comes from. The new radio single “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” sung with Ashley McBryde will tear at your ventricles from the cutting realization found in the story.
“Your Drinkin’, My Problem” and “Diamondback” are a bit more sensible, but still solidly country, and well-crafted songs. That’s one of the things about choosing to become a traditionalist in country’s mainstream these days. There’s excellent songs out there just waiting to be cut. Along with getting credit as a co-writer on every track, Carly works with Brandy Clark, Ashley McBryde, Emily Shackleton, and even Shane McAnally, who just like his work with Midland, has shown he can capture the traditional side of country well when he chooses.
The two new songs that end the set in “All The Whiskey in the World” and “Mean It This Time” are also very strong country offerings, and well-written, and all work within the underlying theme and evolving narrative thread of the record, which is Carly Pearce bearing her heart and emotions in the aftermath of her divorce from fellow performer Michael Ray. Carly divorce record > Kacey divorce record.
Now a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and once a prodigy singing traditional country and bluegrass at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Carly Pearce has successfully wedged a broom handle between the cogs of the Music Row machine, escaped the sausage factory assembly line, and successfully done what many of the young women who move to Nashville fully intend to do before they’re gobbled up by the system: become a country star.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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Purchase Carly Pearce’s 29: Written in Stone