Album Review – Erin Enderlin’s “Faulkner County”
Similar to other highly-regarded behind-the-scenes songwriters like Lori McKenna and Natalie Hemby, Erin Enderlin has been feeding incredible songs and co-writes into the country music biosphere for years now, earning credits with folks like Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, and Bill Anderson. When you want to record one of those absolutely devastating country music tearjerkers that holds back nothing and mercilessly goes to work on the audience’s emotional receptors, the songbook of Erin Enderlin is where you turn.
This is where Reba McEntire looked when she selected “The Bars Getting Lower” for her last record, or Lee Ann Womack when she recorded “Last Call” in 2009. If you see a pattern emerging here already, that’s because Erin Enderlin specializes in putting the most terrible-feeling moments in our entire lives to music, where regret, heartbreak, and self-loathing come straight to the surface, and aren’t shielded in any useful capacity by the short-lived joy that may have been experienced the night before. And unlike some other songwriters whose yield is probably more suited to file in the “Americana” section of your local music store, Erin Enderlin’s output is pure, unadulterated traditional country.
Slowly but surely emerging from the songwriting shadows over the last few years, Erin Enderlin is now more poised than ever to enjoy her own opportunity at center stage, and sets the table for this emergence in the new album Faulkner County. Produced by Jim “Moose” Brown and Enderlin champion Jamey Johnson, the record pulls out all the stops, calls upon an impressive cadre of harmony singers and co-writers, and creates the country music equivalent of a cardiac stress test. There’s no cutting the whiskey with water in this joint.
If you think just the titles of “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” “Tonight I Don’t Give A Damn,” and “Use Me Again” are enough to get you whimpering, wait until you hear the songs themselves. Anything any more heartbreaking would have to come with a warning label, or would be considered the equivalent of country music masochism. Then Erin Enderlin arguably crosses that line in the crushing moments of “Broken.”
By then hopefully you’re at least prepared for the power of emotion an Erin Enderlin song can evoke, and are steeled to endure “Hometown Jersey,” which might be the most hurtful of them all. Only a few seconds in, and you know where this song is headed—not from the cliched nature of the songwriting, but in the way you know that Erin Enderlin shows no mercy, and there’s rarely a rosy ending. You look left, and you look right, just to ensure nobody’s looking at you in case the waterworks start flowing, and then you listen and await the pain.
And through all of this, the music behind these songs is the textbook definition of “country.” Where so many artists these days seem to complain how country music is constricting, Erin Enderlin is one of those artists who holds the line and doesn’t waver when it comes to paying her country roots forward and putting the steel guitar out front. Along the way, she elicits the help of others who also hold to that strict country line, including Cody Jinks, Dillon Carmichael, Vince Gill, and Alison Krauss who all sing harmony on this record.
The second half of Faulkner County does offer a little respite from all the heartbreak, as Enderlin delves into some more familiar songs written by others. But the quality of the songs and moments remains static. “A Man with 18 Wheels” written by
Erin Enderlin songs cuts so deep, they should probably given them their own subgenre. They’re in a class all their own, categorically more potent that your average country music tearjerkers. She’s been helping to keep country music sad on the records of others for years now, while releasing music on her own in relative obscurity. Hopefully Faulkner County will be her moment to soak up some of the worthy spotlight herself.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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Purchase Faulkner County from Erin Enderlin
November 6, 2019 @ 8:59 am
I absolutely love this record. It is exactly what country music should be.
I do wonder why she chose to re-record “Broken” and “Til It’s Gone” from her last album, but nonetheless, they are great songs.
November 6, 2019 @ 9:04 am
There’s a Couple good songs in here but literally and it’s nothing with the song writing it’s the styling of the music. I dont like the seventies outlaw stuff and I don’t like this either. It’s just boring. I would rather hear Kaitlin Butts any day of the week. That keeps me engaged this puts me to sleep. Unpopular opinion I know but I just cant do this…
November 6, 2019 @ 9:08 am
Your comment, it’s just boring
November 6, 2019 @ 9:06 am
Wow, had never heard of Erin before now. Buying the album. Thanks for the heads up, as usual!
November 6, 2019 @ 11:15 am
Also check out her previous two albums “Whiskeytown Crier” and “I Let Her Talk.”
“I Let Her Talk” is a song with such a cool and unexpected twist to it. I love it.
Saw Erin at a songwriter’s circle performance earlier this year and met her after the show. She is such a nice an genuine person.
November 8, 2019 @ 10:03 am
Cobra – I like the new record but thanks to your recommendation I went back and bought her “I Let Her Talk” record. Damn! Your weren’t kidding about the title song – I’ll put it right up there with all the great cheating songs. And you didn’t mention Monday Morning Church – what a heartbreaker. They’re all good. Thanks!
November 6, 2019 @ 9:07 am
as a writer , i only need to hear erin’s name and i start hurting . next to ‘ he stopped loving her today ‘ my favourite ever country song is ‘ you don’t know jack ‘ and its erin’s own ‘demo’ version that brings me to tears every time. i’ve listened to and read that lyric on the page more times than i can count and continue to be in awe of its power over my emotions.
as a fan, i’m admitting erin has spoiled me for so many other songwriters . as a songwriter myself , i know that the already unattainable bar has been raised once again even before i hear a new erin enderlin song .
i am curious , though , about why she would record covers by other writers ……apart from a respect for their inspiration in her own writing and the fact that no one would do those covers more justice .
November 6, 2019 @ 9:15 am
Just blown away by how many true country artists like this fly under the radar, and the fact that the industry is dumb enough to let it happen.
In any event, thanks, Trigg, for introducing us to so many of them. At least we have you.
November 6, 2019 @ 9:23 am
someone needs to start a label and call it ‘REAL COUNTRY’ . there are indeed so many wonderful writers and artists making great COUNTRY music which never reaches the ears of people who respect and appreciate it as such . Trigger and SCM does us and that music a pretty great service .
November 7, 2019 @ 4:56 am
It’d be nice to have all the reviewed releases on one alphabetized list, with the rating and maybe a quick blurb, then the links to purchase and the link back to the review. I do better browsing rather than searching.
November 7, 2019 @ 11:07 am
I do compile an “Essential Albums” list each year which is basically that. And if you simply search “Essential Albums” and the year, you can find them. Perhaps I alphabetize it this year. At some point I may put a master list of all album reviews together, but that would be a pretty labor intensive project.
November 6, 2019 @ 9:45 am
Too country for “country” radio.
Too country for major “country” labels.
Too country for casual “country” fans?
Erin Enderlin enters the room with her new album.
14 great tracks. No reason to skip a song or two. Too many highlights to name one or two tracks.
November 6, 2019 @ 9:55 am
Erin Enderlin is a treasure. The album manages to pack the same emotional punch as her live performances. It astounds me how little attention this record is getting- it has some songs that could definitely be considered standards one day. My only quibble is how several of the songs were released in multiple EP formats prior to the full album. I’d rather wait for the whole thing, but I know that it’s a different type of musical market nowadays.
November 6, 2019 @ 11:59 am
Erin Enderlin has not been the first to release bite-sized EPs ahead of a proper album, and she won’t be the last. And this is very unfortunate, because it’s a pretty terrible way to release music. It’s never effective for anything aside from allowing your music to blend into the background as opposed to breaking through with the momentum and attention a proper album release affords you. And then when the album does come out, you don’t have full momentum because most of your fans have already heard the songs. There is a reason there’s an established way to release music that the majority of people follow. Traditional country isn’t hip-hop or a singles-driven market. This is an album audience. Some people think they’re going to get cute and shift the paradigm of how to release music. But I’ve yet to see it be effective.
I don’t blame them for including some of her older song here though. I think there was a lot of effort to make this Erin’s breakout record, and you might as well put your best foot forward.
Overall, hopefully the power of the record breaks through, and the wonky EP rollout doesn’t have any lingering effects. Because this music deserves attention.
November 6, 2019 @ 10:19 am
Loving this. Thx for the introduction.
November 6, 2019 @ 10:19 am
thanks for pointing me toward this one – i cant pass up great sad songs
November 6, 2019 @ 11:18 am
Erin is fantastic live. She’s one of my favorite female vocalists ever.
November 6, 2019 @ 11:42 am
Very strong record. The list keeps growing!
The emotion is right there in the writing. It would be hard not to deliver a strong performance on songs like these.
November 6, 2019 @ 12:15 pm
Hey Trigger, give Catherine Britt her due credit (writer of sweet Emmylou), she’s got some amazing work that’s worth checking out.
Btw, just listening to the samples, Broken just sounds too much like it was written by trying to think of a sad story.
I know some sad stories and that (to me) does not seem real.
But cheers to her anyway.
November 6, 2019 @ 6:33 pm
catherine britt indeed blackh4t ……just recently re-discovered her myself and she’s the real deal . she belongs in conversations with erin , matraca berg, emily robinson , holly williams, lori mckenna……great country singer too .
November 7, 2019 @ 5:51 am
Catherine Britt won on of her four Golden Guitars for “Sweet Emmylou” (Single of the Year).
I saw her two times in Tamworth. Great live artist too.
She had breast cancer but as far i know she is healed.
Her last album is called Catherine Britt & The Cold Cold Hearts. Some of the tracks made my playlist & the album is raw, down home & very good.
Ken Morton Jr.
November 6, 2019 @ 12:40 pm
“Broken” is my early favorite for song of the year- it comes from a very real place with her work with teenagers in a tough place- many dealing with teenage pregnancies. In an interview with Rolling Stone, “I feel a lot of responsibility playing that song because that’s not my story,” she says. “I worked with a group in high school that did peer counseling [for] at-risk kids. There are so many girls, more than you would want to think, that were going through things like that. I had so much respect for them for sharing their story, and how strong they were.”
November 6, 2019 @ 6:13 pm
“a broken limb from a crooked family tree”
There we go.
November 6, 2019 @ 6:18 pm
Trigger’s review is a good one, but an aspect of Erin’s music that I think he missed is that though a lot of her songs are sad, they can be quite comforting too.
As Trigger mentions, Erin embraces traditional country instrumentation and style. Her achievements, on this record and elsewhere, are evidence that there’s nothing wrong, broken or limiting with the traditional style, and that the way to advance the country genre is simply to dig deep, work hard and write great songs. You don’t need crappy drum loops, choral hooks, sound effects or pop/R&B phrasing, all of which erode the genre rather than advance it, regardless of what some artists will try to argue.
November 7, 2019 @ 12:02 pm
She’s absolutely one of the best. I was listening this today and thought it was great! Another AOTY contender in an already crowded year!!!
November 8, 2019 @ 9:00 am
Thanks for highlighting this album. I just pre-ordered the lp on Amazon. So many great songwriters making excellent records this year. This is another for my year end list.
November 11, 2019 @ 3:22 pm
You know that song “You Don’t Know Jack” that Luke Bryan recorded on his third album that you hated so much? She wrote that song.
November 11, 2019 @ 3:55 pm
Yeah, I know. Good. More mailbox money for Erin. Like I said in the review, she paid her dues in the songwriting trenches, just like Chris Stapleton. Now hopefully it’s time for her to step in the spotlight.
November 11, 2019 @ 4:53 pm
I’m not sure how much mailbox money she’s getting off that one because it wasn’t ever a single. I just remember you bashing it for it’s lack of originality. I personally don’t think its all that bad a song especially when you take into account one of the most beautiful things about country music is it’s simplicity. I was just glad to see her get a song on a major artist’s album when at the time the Peach Pickers dominated Nashville songwriting. Anyway even though I don’t always agree with your reviews I always enjoy them!!
November 21, 2019 @ 1:50 pm
just a follow-up . a friend sent me a copy of erin’s new record and it is everything trigger states above . another dead on , insightful review of perhaps the best-wrtten COUNTRY reord released this year . COUNTRY , as i said to my friend …not COUNTRY- hyphenated , not americana , not ‘grass …not outlaw . this is a COUNTRY record . couldn’t be happier that erin’s cut has been recognized as part of reba’s excellent new COUNTRY album for a grammy award .
just go buy this record , a box of tissues , find a quiet corner and remind yourself of what’s gone missing in your “country” .