Album Review – Emily Nenni’s “On The Ranch”

photo: Alysse Gafkjen

Nobody would ever volunteer to be dosed with the desire to make old school honky tonk music as an occupation in this day and age. It’s most definitely not the easiest path to fame and leisure. That’s how you know that anyone doing it is coming from a place of passion. They don’t do it because they want to, necessarily. They do it because it’s in them and it has to come out. That doesn’t mean they can’t have a hell of a time doing it though, and that’s what comes through in the throwback country music of Emily Nenni.

Originally from California, Emily felt the calling towards old school country music so resolutely, she dropped everything and moved to Nashville where she didn’t know a soul. Gifted in singing and writing songs though, she fell in with the right crowd around Nashville’s true country institutions such as Robert’s Western World and Santa’s Pub, bribing her way onto the stage of the former by bringing baked goods to the bouncers and staff. Now Emily Nenni has become a mainstay of Nashville’s country music revivalist community, and a valued contributor.

Nenni is no newcomer to the studio. She released a debut LP in 2017 and has a couple of EPs as well, but her new album On The Ranch is in many ways Emily’s opportunity to step out of the shadows of east Nashville scene and make a bid for national recognition with Normaltown/New West Records behind her. Emily’s believers hope this is the album that lands her on the throwback country music depth charts, and it just might have the muster to do that.

Like so many of Nashville’s younger-aged, but older-souled artists, Emily Nenni makes a neotraditonal style of country music, emulating all the old greats that so much of Music City has forgotten or moved on from. Though Nashville has been Emily Nenni’s base of operations for some years now, the album was written when she decided to relocate to the ranch of her producer Mike Eli out in Colorado to help out around the place, hence the name, On The Ranch.

Nenni will admit herself that she’s no cowgirl, but she makes On The Ranch unique by incorporating Western themes into her classic Nashville influences, like in the opening song “Can Chaser” about female barrel racers. Refusing to be tamed is a recurring theme of the album. Nenni maybe be a ravenesque chanteuse with a come hither quality to her, but as she explains via the song “In The Mornin’,” you better not get yourself too attached.

On The Ranch is a fun, escapist album, cutting a cool country vibe, and finding fusion points with a few funky sounds along with 80s and 90s influences. It’s also fair to characterize the experience as one that leans more on style and finesse than strong songwriting and teary moments. It’s a bit more interpretation than authenticity. Emily Nenni would probably concur, looking to strike more of a more playful tone than trying to impress the stuffy Americana crowd. That doesn’t mean she can’t express something a little deeper and clever in the right moments, like in one of the album’s hidden gems, “The Rooster And The Hen.”

Leaving a string of broken hearts in her wake, and bringing a lively enthusiasm to vintage country, Emily Nenni proves that evoking older sounds into new country music doesn’t have to result in a fuddy-duddy feeling. It can be invigorating and fun, while also fulfilling all of those old soul requisites of hearkening back to a more gratifying era in country music.

1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)

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