Album Review – Carly Pearce’s “29”
The genius and beauty of country music has always been its simplicity. This is not rocket science. Earnest people putting real world emotions and experiences to rhythm and rhyme is what has allowed country music to thrive and remain eternally relevant for nearly a century. Confusing that mission, and conflating it with other concerns is where it loses its soul, and flounders, no matter how well it might be received by the masses. It ceases to be country, and is only just music.
We’ve known for a while now that Carly Pearce has the heart, and the history to become something special in the country mainstream. She started playing bluegrass at 11, and dropped out of school at 16 after trying out for the “Country Crossroads” show at Dollywood and winning the job. Pearce then moved to Pigeon Forge where she performed bluegrass music six times a day, five days a week.
But up until this point, that’s been nothing more than a cool backstory, and was poorly reflected in the country pop she’s performed for the most part, aside from a few outlying moments that only frustrated you even more because it gave you glimmers of what you knew she was fully capable of. Now with her new 7-song album 29, the Carly Pierce we’ve been impatiently waiting to reveal herself finally emerges.
Directly inspired and written to chronicle her divorce from fellow major label country performer Michael Ray, 29 is a classic breakup record in the sense that it captures all of the raw emotion of heavy moments in words that do justice to such life-defining matters. Few subjects are more country than divorce, because it’s real. And in country, you don’t sugar coat it, or sweep it under the rug. You speak about it openly. You prove your strength by being candid, and being willing to show your vulnerability.
Let’s talk straight: this is not the album Tammy Wynette would have turned in. The “Big Machine Records” stamp on it ensures it’s more pragmatic than purist. But that takes nothing away from the writing turned in by Pearce with the assistance from some others, or the overall more rootsy and twangy sound compared to its major label peers. Even if it’s short enough to officially label as an EP, Carly Pearce’s 29 will still provide the notch in the door jamb for all other 2021 major label projects to be measured against.
Pulling no punches, and bypassing all allusion and insinuation, these are Carly Pearce’s thoughts and experiences put to song. “Next Girl,” “Should’ve Known Better,” and “Messy” lay it all right out there. The title song “29” (Carly’s age at the time she wrote it) makes you recall how daunting that age can really be. As young as it may seem in hindsight, it’s the first time you truly feel old, especially when things aren’t going exactly as you planned.
“Liability” works in that classic country double-entendre way that not enough country songs do these days, even if it feels slightly forced. Hit songwriters Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne do significant co-writing work on this record with Carly, while they both also co-produce the effort. The fifth track “Show Me Around” was inspired by the death of Carly’s previous producer “busbee.”
Not to speak ill of busbee, but he was one of the principle individuals who pushed the music of Pearce in a significantly more pop direction, as he did with Maren Morris and others. Having also worked with more country-sounding outfits like Midland along with pop acts, the pairing of Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne are more well-equipped to make the Carly Pearce sound come to life in a way that’s more respectful to her roots, and her want.
This isn’t a breakup record with all the attitudinal and revenge-filled posturing that you so often get in the mainstream that works like a female version of Bro-Country. There’s a reflective thoughtfulness that’s more mature and meaningful here, even if it still has a mainstream feel. Others in the independent ranks of country music will make better records in 2021 than 29. But few if any that find their home on major labels and country radio will.
February 22, 2021 @ 8:48 am
Her best album yet. Finally. She has arrived.
King Honky Of Crackershire
February 22, 2021 @ 8:52 am
Has anyone heard this?
February 22, 2021 @ 9:04 am
Yes, it was released last July, and I had the video in the ticker for about two weeks. Good song, though these protest songs have grown quite old over time.
King Honky Of Crackershire
February 22, 2021 @ 9:52 am
Oh ok. I just heard it today and thought it was new.
February 22, 2021 @ 11:09 am
Thats a great song! Bellamys and John Anderson sound really good. I knew nothing about it.
As for Carly, that Next Girl song is catchy, has a memorable guitar riff, kinda 90s country vibe, maybe a bit of Trisha Yearwood sound there. Shes got talent.
February 22, 2021 @ 6:43 pm
Good song! Thanks for sharing.
February 22, 2021 @ 9:18 am
Next Thing has a Jo Dee Messina vibe to it, not bad.
February 22, 2021 @ 9:56 am
Great review and echoes what Ive been thinking. The potential has always been there and the singles she released from this showed she was finally becoming what we all hoped. This EP is a great example of how to make Pop Country without losing the great song writing and elements that make it Country.
Also, with more artists would embrace the EP format. Its nice to have a quick consumable set of songs with no filler.
February 22, 2021 @ 10:24 am
Is this album available as a physical release (CD)?
I know most EPs aren’t.. But everyone seems to be referring to this as an album.
Ingrid Andress’ debut album last year had only 8 songs & it was indeed released as a physical CD
February 22, 2021 @ 10:35 am
Not seeing any physical product available at the moment.
February 22, 2021 @ 10:26 am
She has quickly become my favorite female mainstream artist. Not hard competition sadly.. I hope she gets some award show love in the future!!
Walter Hartwell White
February 22, 2021 @ 3:32 pm
She’s probably my favourite female mainstream artist as well, and I don’t even like her that much. That’s how low the bar is…
February 22, 2021 @ 10:59 am
SOMEONE TAG MARGO PRICE!!!!!!
And her tongue is like the devil, when she tries to concentrate…..
February 22, 2021 @ 11:08 am
The picture at the beginning of the article reminds me of Elizabeth Cook in a photo of her in a car I’ve seen a bunch
February 22, 2021 @ 1:52 pm
My only concern with this release is that hopefully it doesn’t get attached to a full album somewhere down the road because that seems to be a thing these days.
February 22, 2021 @ 5:26 pm
This is one of the few instances where an EP format works, where you have a cohesive story you want to get out, and you don’t want to bog it down. My guess is this will be autonomous from any future studio release. It’s long enough where it will still qualify for awards and such and can offer multiple singles. My bigger concern is that when she does make a new album, they’ll try to push her again in a more commercial direction, and see this as a side project.
February 23, 2021 @ 8:00 am
Yeah ya know it’s like Ward Davis’ Asunder EP. He had something to say and he said it quite well. Then he took his time and wrote the masterpiece that is Black Cats and Crows. This group of songs clocks in at 22 minutes, it’s honest, it’s real, and after a couple of spins and to my ears it’s just a hair above ok. I hope when she/they start to work on the next one she does as good as Ward did.
February 22, 2021 @ 3:00 pm
Excited for Carly’s new direction, but I wish they’d waited a bit and gotten this song on the album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTc8BKaIixY
February 23, 2021 @ 3:22 am
I agree! I was excited about the release thinking “Didn’t Do” would be on it. It’s a hit!
February 22, 2021 @ 3:25 pm
Big fan of this album! Congrats to Carly for putting out such a good album.
February 22, 2021 @ 3:43 pm
Michael Ray is a dumbass……she is fiya
February 22, 2021 @ 4:09 pm
Alexa, play “The One that Got Away” *
* One of his #1 radio “hits” – had to clarify since his discography is likely unknown by most
February 22, 2021 @ 4:30 pm
I love love love love this album.
February 22, 2021 @ 5:19 pm
I knew when Carly announced she was marrying that tool Michael Ray, it wouldn’t last. I mean, I hoped it would because Carly seems like a genuinely kind person.
I’m not sure writing a ‘divorce’ record after being married for five minutes is warranted, but each to their own.
I find the music too poppy for my tastes, but I guess adding a fiddle and steel is enough for people to claim something is “country” these days.
Would be great to hear Carly do a real traditional album. Again, I think she’s genuine, so I hope this sells a ton for her.
February 22, 2021 @ 5:21 pm
It’ll be curious to see if Maren Morris will sound a bit more country or rootsier on her next album since she will also be working with a new producer or two. Again, no disrespect to busbee intended.
February 22, 2021 @ 6:30 pm
i find these songs and her voice very very average . this could be fairchild or ballerrini ..even cam . not saying her stuff isn’t radio-friendly ….just saying its still ”don’t-rock- the- boat’ pop-country radio. short shelf -life song-wise and not a lot of conviction in the performances .
i’m trying NOT to say ” not as bad as a lot of radio stuff ” but that means less and less , i think .
harmless m.o.r. music…but not in a good way .
February 22, 2021 @ 6:51 pm
What a beaut.
But having listened, why don’t I feel like I’ve heard from an actual person? I blame McAnally and Osborne. Everything has to be sanded smooth, even pain.
After something like that, I want to hear Carly cut loose with a guitar and a grudge.
February 23, 2021 @ 7:51 am
I like her in comparison to most others in the current crop of female artists. Songs are not bad and tend to at least form some type of bridge, wobbly though it is, between straight-ahead country pop and traditional.
For me, there is just something about her, Can’t quite put my finger on it. Her stage presence, via youtube, doesn’t resonate with me. Of course, that is just a personal thing. Seems like she just does not come across as really authentic. (See Corncaster’s post above).
Now, I realize that artists’ singing live will be somewhat of a disconnect from a studio recording. That is to be expected. To me, there is a LARGE disconnect for her. This leads me to think she requires much studio help in her voice. Maybe that is why I tend to think she is a package being presented by a gift-wrapper with a pretty bow on top (blond hair, puffed lips, skinny-as-a-rail in short skirts) rather than an unpackaged offering so we can see what is really inside.
Just a perception. I do like “Hope You’re Happy Now”. Also, “Next Girl” is tolerable.
But for me, something is missing. Can’t quite figure it out just yet. But, she is certainly more tolerable than many others currently.
February 23, 2021 @ 10:02 am
I’ve thought highly of Carly since she came out on stage with the Josh Abbott Band at the Grizzly Rose back in 2016 to sing Wasn’t that Drunk. Glad to see her backing off the pop.
I am confused though. Day One was released by Pat Green in 2016, yet the credits on the album list McAnally, Pearce, Osborne and Ramsey in them on her EP. Is this a case of Spotify getting it wrong, or did McAnally really write this for Green five years ago?
February 23, 2021 @ 10:39 am
Good question that I am currently looking into. Had someone email me about this earlier, and I had forgotten about the Pat Green song. Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne did participate in Green’s “Home” album. I’m trying to run down specifically how those credits shook out. The two song lyrics are slightly different, though they’re basically the same. Seems strange this wouldn’t be at least mentioned somewhere in regards to this Pearce project. The official story is McAnally and Osborne were writing it for Old Dominion, and the Pearce came in and finished it. That for sure is not entirely true.
February 23, 2021 @ 11:15 am
Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, and Ramsey wrote the song back in probably 2011, and Ramsey recorded a version of it around that time. Then Pat Green recorded it in 2015. My guess is Pearce changed some of the lyrics, and gets a credit on the new version. Not sure there’s any big issue here, though it is definitely worth noting that Pat Green released it five years ago. That’s been brushed over in the verbiage for the release.
February 23, 2021 @ 1:54 pm
Thanks for the background. I was unable to unearth it on my own. It is a pretty strong effort from McAnally and company.
February 23, 2021 @ 11:13 am
I believe the song went to #1 on the Texas Regional Radio charts in August of 2016, so it was a regional hit for Pat and I recognized it the instant it came on when listening to 29.
February 25, 2021 @ 3:25 pm
I like her voice, lyrical content felt cliche and repetitive outside of the two Trig highlighted above though.
It’s really hard to do original breakup and “when I get to heaven” songs that are radio friendly.