Move aside all you pop country prima donnas of both the the male and female persuasion, because a bona fide redneck warrior princess has just shown up looking to shake up the mainstream scene with unapologetic and boisterous modern country songs served with unabashed attitude and honesty.
From the small town of Baskin, Louisiana (pop. 300), and born and raised on Hank Williams, Buck Owens, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Lainey Wilson is working to upset the pecking order in the world of country pop by pushing the bros aside and demanding your undivided attention. That’s how she ended up on the main imprint of Broken Bow Records right beside bro dudes like Jason Aldean, Dustin Lynch, and Chase Rice, as well as on the mostly male-dominated soundtrack of the Paramount TV Series Yellowstone.
Now she’s ready to take advantage of those opportunities with her new album Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ by serving up a diverse selection of songs that appeal to most all facets of the country listening public, while also keeping it mostly country, at least in the attitude and lyrics. If you’re looking for those heartfelt and well-written country odes, she has you covered with “Things A Man Oughta Know,” and “Rolling Stone.” If you’re looking for some sass and attitude indicative of early Miranda Lambert and the Pistol Annies, check out “Sunday Best” and “Small Town, Girl.” Or if you want straight up country pop that’s catchy and fun yet doesn’t make you feel completely stupid, try “LA” and “Pipe.”
Lainey Wilson is receiving lots of praise as a bright spot in the mainstream, but this is also how more distinguishing listeners should approach her music—a bright spot in the mainstream. Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ is smartly done and fun, but it’s also a Jay Joyce joint, which means the production, style, and instrumentation for much of the record tends to only be country and understated by accident.
“WWDD” may be an acronym for “What Would Dolly Do,” but Jay Joyce figured out how to take what could have been a decent country song and make it sound more like Joan Jett. The song “Straight Up Sideways” could be a selection from the Jackyl catalog. Joyce loves his loud rock guitar, and this is what predominates this record. Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ is a rock record, like most every Jay Joyce-produced project. What makes it country is Lainey Wilson’s thick Southern accent (which isn’t a put-on if you hear her talk), and most of the writing, with Wilson herself co-writing every song.
But let’s also not be super uptight about genre and overlook the album’s strengths. Though “LA” takes a decidedly pop approach, that’s sort of the point—to poke fun at the Southern California powder puff style while parading out your Southern roots. “Pipe” is also pretty vapid as a song, but the ascending and descending guitar parts sure are catchy.
This is supposed to be a fun record—young and brash in a way that brings the personality of Lainey Wilson to the surface. Sure, you wish it was more country in stretches, but it avoids snap tracks and drum loops, and still distinguishes itself from most of what we hear in the mainstream today.
And most importantly, Lainey Wilson delivers a number of songs in “Things A Man Oughta Know,” “Rolling Stone,” and the final song, “Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin'” that make the effort worthy of your attention, even if you cherry pick your way through it. It’s fair to couch Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ as an album with some good songs as opposed to a good album. There’s just too many “I’m country!” songs that don’t sound country. But it also reveals a newcomer in the mainstream who is willing and able to make waves in a more positive direction, which is always welcome.
1 1/4 Guns Up (6.75/10)