The younger, more blonde, and more bombshell that a woman is in country music, the more pop their country music leans. This is the unfortunate stereotype that country music fans have been conditioned to believe over the last 15 years or so. But Emily Ann Roberts is here to dispel that misconception with her debut album Can’t Hide Country.
No, this is not a super traditional record. It’s not full of Western Swing reels or sad bastard drinking songs. It’s representative and autobiographical of a young woman in the Southern United States (Knoxville, specifically) telling stories of the hopes, joys, and tribulations of her life. But it’s undoubtedly country, heartfelt, and delightfully simple and true. In an ideal world, this would be what popular country sounds like.
It would be super easy for Emily Ann Roberts to allow others to write the songs for her, have some hot shot producer assigned to her from a major label, and watch her singles shoot up the charts. She’s got the image and the voice to be as big as she wants. But if Emily Ann Roberts is going to hit it big, it’s going to be her way, with songs she wrote, and with the sound and messages that appeal to her, which is a mix of traditional country with modern sensibility.
The album starts off with the up-tempo fiddle-driven tune “Whole Lotta Little” that sets the table for what Can’t Hide Country has in store. In an era of envy and spite, Emily Ann portrays a refreshing perspective of appreciating what you have and not needing any more. The song is also emblematic of the enthusiasm and vigor she brings to true country music, turning something that can sometimes come across as stuffy into an exuberant experience. “Whole Lotta Little” has also won her a wide audience of country fans both young and old.
There is a wholesomeness to Can’t Hide Country that is refreshing. There are a couple of heartbreak and “done me wrong” songs, and songs about searching for love. But the lion’s share of songs are about being in love as opposed to being a victim of it. “Infinity” and “Loves Me For My Heart” are sweet little tracks, if maybe a little too conventional, similar to multiple songs from the album. The final song called “The Building” is about Emily’s faith that she shares fearlessly.
But don’t worry, Roberts does spice things up too like with the song “Chickens.” She may be more traditional with her perspective on life, but she’s no prude. When she finds her man, she’s not afraid to sing about what happens when the lights go out and they hit the sack, at least through allusion and innuendo. Emily evokes Shania in the song “Find Me A Man.” But instead of turning in a cliché about female empowerment, she flips the script and decides a man is what she’s after.
’90s country is definitely the foundation for Can’t Hide Country. It was produced by Trent Willmon who is known for working with more traditional-leaning artists with more mainstream sounds such as Cody Johnson and Chancey Williams. Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill appear on the song “Still Searching,” which adds a little ’90s star powers to the album as well.
Having now appeared on the Grand Ole Opry stage nearly 20 times—and with a foundation of fans from competing on The Voice previously singing songs from the likes of Patty Loveless, The Judds, Patsy Cline, and Dolly Parton—Emily Ann Roberts has an opportunity in the current environment to catch a wave of interest in more country-sounding country music like we’ve seen work well for Megan Moroney, Lainey Wilson, and others.
Can’t Hide Country isn’t a world-beater as much as it’s a really good sign that country music is moving in the right direction, and across a broad section of the genre. It’s also a great foundation for the career of Emily Ann Roberts, and a fun record overall. Young women and the men that love them deserve good country music too, and that’s what Roberts delivers here.
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