When you think of Michelle Branch, you don’t immediately think of country music. There are multiple reasons for that. First off, the majority of her musical contributions that people remember are her two pop records from the early 00’s The Spirit Room and Hotel Paper that earned her multiple radio hits and a nomination for the Best New Artist Grammy in 2003. But as a solo artist, these were her sole LP releases until 2017’s Hopeless Romantic.
What was Michelle Branch doing the rest of the time? Well some may recall her quite successful country duo project called The Wreckers, which released their debut album Stand Still, Look Pretty in 2006. Short for “The Cass County Homewreckers,” Branch paired up with country singer and songwriter Jessica Harp for the duo, and they saw quite a bit of success, including a #1 single in “Leave The Pieces,” another top 10 in “My, Oh My,” while their album released by the California-based label Maverick Records was minted Gold.
Though pop stars migrating to country is something usually frowned upon by many on the traditional side of country, The Wreckers were much more of a passion project than a carpetbagging maneuver that just happened to find commercial success because it was so appealing. And though the music distinctly includes pop influences, it’s also very rootsy, especially compared to today’s country pop. The pair went on to be nominated for Duo of the Year by both the CMA and ACM Awards over multiple years during their heyday between 2005 and 2007.
But after the initial success of The Wreckers, Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp chose to go their separate ways and start solo careers. This is really where the trouble ensued for Ms. Branch, and why her discography has a gaping, 14-year hole in it, aside from The Wreckers release.
Off the success of The Wreckers, Branch signed with Warner Music Nashville, and soon found out that on Music Row, things often operate much differently than they do elsewhere. Whether it was with her early pop stuff or her work with The Wreckers, Branch had always enjoyed the ability to write her own material, call her own shots, and have the latitude to express herself creatively. But that’s not how it works in much of Nashville.
Between 2007 and 2010, the career of Michelle Branch was bogged down as she fought with her Music Row masters, unsuccessfully writing and recording what was supposed to be her big country music debut solo album. Frustrated and exhausted, in December of 2010, she posted a letter to her fans about the incessant delays with her country album, Everything Comes and Goes.
A lot of changes have happened in the last few months. Perhaps the biggest (and the one that directly involves you) is that I’ve decided it’s time to move on. I went into the studio and started recording “Everything Comes and Goes” in the fall of 2007 with high hopes of it being released that following summer. Three years later, a majority of that album still sits on the proverbial shelf. It has not been the easiest ride emotionally or creatively. It seemed like every time I had a leg up and the light at the end of the tunnel was drawing nearer, something would happen and dramatically alter the course. I am so proud of this album and I so desperately wanted to share it with you. So many people crossed my path and gave their two cents about who I was and what I should sound like, that by the end of the day my original vision had been lost and buried. For the first time ever I found myself in a position where I was trying to appease someone else. I’m heartbroken that you might never hear the original version of this album as I had intended. I’ve had my moment of grief and I think the only way I can get through it is by moving forward.
Eventually a condensed, EP version of Everything Comes and Goes did emerge, though it was poorly promoted, and who really knows if it is what Michelle Branch wanted, or what the record label made in their image of what they wanted Michelle Branch to be.
Though often forgotten, Michelle Branch is one of the most egregious modern cases of a career being murdered on Music Row. She wasn’t an unproven commodity, like many of the hopefuls who sign to major labels. She was a wildly-successful pop star with multiple major hits and the coveted New Artist Grammy, along with a successful side project with The Weavers. Then she came to Nashville, and immediately had her career wrecked by creative differences with a record label, resulting in the decade-plus gap in her output.
In 2015, Michelle Branch met The Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, and they started dating. The couple had a child together, and Carney produced Branch’s 2017 album Hopeless Romantic. She’s remained somewhat active in music over the last few years, but many forget that Michelle Branch was supposed to have a career in country, and how poorly that turned out.
However, there may be a new opportunity to hear the country side of Michelle Branch on the horizon, and the one she wants to share, as opposed to a record label’s version. Last week, Both Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp posted teasers on their social media pages that The Wreckers are coming back. The duo has launched new Twitter and Instagram pages, saying “2020 doesn’t deserve this. See you in 2021.”
Of course, the return of The Wreckers could be one of those things to get super excited about, but with so much time between projects, may not pay off in the results. We’ll just have to see. But it is encouraging to see The Wreckers reunited. It’s also heartening to see Michelle Branch possibly back in the country business. Because regardless of what anyone thinks about her solo music or the music with The Wreckers, every artist deserves to have their creative expressions respected by the music industry entrusted with them by artists. And when it came to the country career of Michelle Branch, that didn’t happen.