Album Review – Emily Nenni’s “Drive & Cry”

Hearkening back to a time when country sounded country, and singers were required to come with a distinctive sound, Emily Nenni has released a fun, infectious, twangy, diverse, and career-defining album that will renew your spirits in the state country music. Whether you’re looking to commiserate over a broken heart or help cut through the monotony as the miles pass by on the highway, Drive & Cry is a deft choice in a crowded country landscape.

It all comes together for Emily Nenni on her third album. Choosing to handle all the writing herself, and embracing the classic themes that one encounters in life and the honky tonk scene as opposed to trying to be too involved results in ideal material for a country album. Then Nenni delivers it all with a voice that compels intrigue all itself, demanding your attention.

For Drive & Cry, Emily Nenni selected John James Tourville of The Deslondes as producer, who is quickly distinguishing himself as someone with a mastery of textures and eras to compliment whatever a song calls for. He’s was also the producer for Pat Reedy’s well-regarded recent album Make It Back Home. As opposed to picking a specific sound for Nenni and sticking with it for a dozen songs, it’s the writing itself that chooses what direction the music will go, allowing the sound to envelop the words and result in the desired mood.

The Western-themed “Lay Of The Land” works like a travelogue of interesting places, enhanced by the plucks of a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar and a faraway harmonica indicative of classic Willie Nelson. The kiss-off “I Don’t Need You” finds an up-tempo and uninhibited ’70s boogie. “We Sure Could Two Step” is perfect for the dance floor.

But all of this is subordinate to the real star of the show, which is the unique sound and delivery of Nenni’s voice. It might come across as a little naggy to new initiates, but by the end of Drive & Cry, you will be outright craving the sound of Nenni singing country when your brain should be focused on more pertinent priorities.

More so than on previous projects, Nenni really masters moving in and out of phrases, and writing in a way that accentuates what makes her singing so unique. Few if any other vocalists could even pull off a song like “I Don’t Have To Like You,” let alone sell it like Nenni does. Not since John Anderson have we heard a country singer with such volume control and ability to smooth out all abrupt edges on a performance.

Drive & Cry gets all the big things right, and it gets all the little things right as well. The key changes at the end of many of the songs might be a country cliché, but that’s because it works. The instrumentation is super tasty, especially on the title track, and the backup singers on “Rootin’ For You” adds the perfect punch to turn a song from good to great.

A couple of the slow songs on the album like “I Can’t Pretend It Never Happened” and “Set On The Steps” may be a little harder to pay attention to. In these instances, the music finds more difficulty meeting the moments. But these also might be the moments where if you listen intently, the writing of Emily Nenni distinguishes itself the most.

For years, performers like Emily Nenni could only find an audience for their music in underground circles, and places like Robert’s Western World and Santa’s Pub in Nashville. But now the voice and sound of Emily Nenni is what listeners are on the hunt for. Drive & Cry meets this moment with an invigorated and enthusiastic version of country music that can find audiences across generations.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8.1/10)

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