Big Machine Label Group
Release Date: September 17th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- What He Didn’t Do
- Easy Going
- Dear Miss Loretta (feat. Patty Loveless)
- Next Girl
- Should’ve Known Better
- Never Wanted to Be That Girl (feat. Ashley McBryde)
- Your Drinkin’, My Problem
- Show Me Around
- Day One
- All The Whiskey In The World
- Mean It This Time
The past couple of years of both 2020 and 2021, has been difficult for many of us, for obvious reasons inclusive of COVID-19. However for me, while lockdown was indeed a challenge and something that I needed to adjust to; what I did find was my musical tastes expanding beyond the confines of CCM and worship. Not that Christian music is bad, but if you limit God to only speaking through the obvious overt melodies about and to Jesus… then I guess you’ll miss out on all of the ways God chooses to speak to us via different avenues. I wrote a blog about God speaking to us through unexpected ways a while ago; yet over the past few years, I found myself drawn to different genres of music apart from CCM, and in particular the country music genre. Admittedly though, it’s only been during this past year that I’ve been immersed the most in the genre of country music- as a site we’ve blogged about 11 country artists thus far (and counting!); and Carly Pearce’s latest full length album 29: Written In Stone reinforces my idea of country music being one of the most honest and vulnerable genres ever… and quite possibly one of the most underrated genres as well!
Last year, I reviewed Carly’s self-titled sophomore album, and at the time, I didn’t know a thing about Carly, her upbringing, how she got into music, her backstory, her musical influences and everything else that Wikipedia tells us. And as of right now I’m still not across everything Carly related. Yet with me being introduced to Carly’s music in the strangest way (via a Youtube recommendation!); I was reintroduced to Carly again this year through Matthew West’s song “Truth Be Told”. Jon reviewed that song; and then I restarted reacquainting myself with Carly’s music. 29 was the EP that I decided to listen to… and boy is it a tearjerker and an emotional album that probably none of us are prepared for! Now here we are and Carly has continued on with her songwriting to extend her 29 EP into a full length album 29: Written In Stone. And so it stands to reason that I have decided to voice my thoughts on this third album here right now because… well, why not? I know that we’ve reviewed predominately Christian albums in the past, but just take a read of our reviews now! We’ve branched out of late somewhat (cause I’m now of the belief that God can and will use anything to glorify His name and for our good!); and now let’s dive in to hear what Carly has to say about life, love, loss and everything else in between, as she talks about her 29th year of being alive.
In the beginning, I wasn’t quite sure what 29 was. I just knew I needed to get some things off my chest. “Messy” felt like a really good stopping point. I’m very much a situational writer, so when I wrote that song, I was like, “Okay, this feels like I’m done for a while.”
Losing my producer, busbee, was a really interesting experience for me of looking at music completely different. I was very overwhelmed with the idea of even continuing on in music without him. I felt like I had unleashed this part of me that I was always supposed to find musically and sonically with this really country sound.
I think what I didn’t realize is, I was kind of going through all of this in real time. Now when I go back and I listen to this project, it really is grief and realization of something that was so difficult—but then getting on the other side, which is a really powerful part of it. That’s why I wanted the second half to be in color instead of black and white like the first.
In the very beginning of putting this album out, I remember the hundreds of messages that I got from fans in a way that I’ve never gotten. Sure, I’ve had fans say, “I relate to your music” and “You helped me through a hard time,” but this felt different.
Now that we’re back out on the road, I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and shared their stories. I helped them let go of a relationship, I helped them file for divorce, I helped them regain their worth, I got them out of an abusive relationship. All of these things that, to me, matter so much more than just being an artist singing on a stage.
Everybody experiences pain, and to hear that people have clung on to my music as hope, that’s more empowering than anything I could ever imagine. I’m proud to have gone through what I went through for that. I had a fan recently come up to me and she was like, “I just went through a divorce and I just don’t know what to do.” I said, “You’re gonna be okay.” She’s looking at me, on the other side, and she’s like, “Are you sure?” and I said, “Yes, I know it.” That’s such a cool relationship that I now have with fans.
They say you live a lot in your 20’s, that you ‘sow your wild oats’ and ‘live it up’ all before you settle down with a family. Yet Carly has gone through pain and heartache aplenty before her 30th birthday- she was married and divorced in the same year, and that alone has taken a toll on herself and the bubbly nature of her previous songs. In fact, most, if not all, of 29: Written In Stone is incredibly sombre and reflective, and though that may turn off some listeners, I reckon that this makes the album all the more stronger- as we hear the real-life stories and lessons learned from someone who has felt and experienced heartache and has come through the other side a much more knowledgeable person and someone who’s character has grown and strengthened in leaps and bounds. Album opener “Diamondback”, co-written with Kelsea Ballerini, is an aggressive, no-holds-barred savage and revengeful fiddle prominent 3 minute country tune, and features Carly singing about her divorce with Michael Ray and letting him know that he can ‘…keep the house, keep the truck, go downtown, get too drunk, kiss a one-night stand with a butterfly on her back, take the bed where you used to lie, keep the friends I never liked, and the happy ever after welcome mat, but you ain’t gonna get this diamond back, no never ever gettin’ this diamond back…’. It’s a song that is vulnerable, emotional, personal and extremely honest. In fact, the entire album of 29: Written In Stone is built around Carly’s divorce and her feelings surrounding that entire situation, and so this track that speaks about getting even and letting her ex know that he did her wrong, and that’s why he isn’t having the ring back; reminds us that even if we make mistakes and are truly sorry for our actions, we need to know that there are consequences for our actions, and we need to live with them. It’s an opener that is sassy and has Carly extremely confident in herself, and this type of surety is something that is always welcome to see and hear.
The rest of the album builds upon Carly’s feelings of betrayal from her ex-husband, but doesn’t stay in self-pity and hurt and pain for long; but rather speaks about feelings of determination, resoluteness and, acceptance and loving yourself. “What He Didn’t Do”, a track laced with bitterness and anger, spells out plainly what Michael didn’t do for Carly during their marriage, as he didn’t ‘…treat me right, put me first, be a man of his word, stay home ’cause he wanted to, and always fight for my love, hold on tight like it’s something that he couldn’t stand to lose…all I know is in the еnd, it wasn’t what he did, no, it was what he didn’t do…’; while the laidback, acoustic guitar prominent “Easy Going”, emphatically has Carly relaying that it was so easy to love her ex-husband until it wasn’t… and it was the easiness of the love that made it a red flag for her. I assume that there was hardly any conflict prior to the split, and perhaps Carly didn’t think that she was growing as a person in the marriage; however at least she is honest in these tracks, and admitting the reasons why she is feeling this way.
Complete with steel guitars and the trusty old fiddle, “Dear Miss Loretta” is the quintessential country melody, with Carly singing this song in ‘letter’ format to her role model Loretta Lynn. Together with Patty Loveless, the duo sing in perfect harmony, as she asks Loretta for wisdom and guidance for the hard times in this life, and as Carly herself speaks about how this song is extremely special for her: It’s no question that Loretta Lynn is a major inspiration of mine…[m]y grandma introduced to me to her music when I was a little girl, and made sure I understood that if I was going to sing country music being from Kentucky – I had to know the importance of Miss Loretta Lynn. I’ve always loved her, but it wasn’t until the last year that I really FELT what she’s sang about all these years – and just how much we really do have in common. I wrote this song recently with Shane McAnally & Brandy Clark as a letter to her, saying all the things I wish I could say to her & sang it for the first time last night on my favorite stage. Thank you Loretta, for making me feel like it’s okay to write my truth and be unashamed.. just like you.; we are met with one of the most vulnerable, heartfelt and poignant melodies on the album- and a song that makes us feel and feel deeply as well.
The bouncy and upbeat tune “Next Girl” is a direct warning to other women who fall under the charm of men like Carly’s ex, as she recounts that ‘…he knows how to say all the right things, knows how to get you outta that dress, knows how to make you think you’re the best thing, but I know what happens next, girl…’. Heartache and warnings come in the more callous and direct “Should’ve Known Better”, as Carly calls out her ex and asks him why she made her feel special and why he strung her along- a song that must have been hard to record; while the title track is an honest slow ballad that earnestly relays to us that ‘…twenty-nine, is the year that I got married and divorced, I held on for dear life, but I still fell off the horse, from a Miss to a Mrs. then the other way around, the year I was gonna live it up; now I’m never gonna live it down…’, highlighting to us that unexpected hardships can arise, and it’s how we deal with them that tests our resilience and our adaptability- in the case of Carly’s resilience, it was tested when she divorced from her husband! For me personally, the title track is one of the most impactful and powerful songs from anyone from this whole year- and I can say this with confidence… and that’s how moving, relevant and poignant Carly’s song writing actually is!
The notion of cheating and the ex having two different partners at the same time, is explored in the powerful, compelling and confronting “Never Wanted To Be That Girl”. With Carly emotionally and beautifully singing in perfect harmony with Ashley McBryde, we are met with a stirring, thought-provoking and personal melody, and a song where we can enter into Carly’s psyche and empathise with her plight. While we aren’t sure about the details of her failing marriage, the emotions and feelings of neglect and isolation that Carly was obviously feeling, is something that you’d never want to feel, ever. And thus this track is a reminder that as men, we need to treat the women in our life right and with kindness and with love. if we are married or dating someone, we shouldn’t look anywhere else. That’s just the way it is. “Your Drinkin’, My Problem”, a sobering and hard-hitting melody, delves into the realities of alcoholism and Carly’s ex-husband’s obvious vice that allowed him to slip multiple times; while “Liability” is a groovy jazzy tune with the subject matter being as serious as anything Carly has ever record- accusing her ex of not being honest and cheating at the time of them being together. It’s a situation where we still don’t know the full story of what happened between Carly and her ex, however this track nonetheless is a warning to escape relationships with trust issues and hopefully a catalyst for opening up to people we can truly be ourselves with and not be judged.
“Messy”, probably one of the most ‘country’ songs on this album, dives deep into the concept of the messiness of moving on from relationship (into another, or just into singledom); while the emotional and personal “Show Me Around” is directed to the late produced busbee, and speaks about Carly meeting him in heaven someday, and is thematically similar to Lauren Alaina’s “The Other Side”. “Day One” continues the story of 29: Written In Stone with a heartfelt ballad, and Carly reminding herself that healing from a relationship takes time, and that she will heal if she can get past ‘day one’. Just as informative and educational and dare I say it- powerful, as Matthew West’s song of the same name; “Day One” reminds us of taking our own time in healing from whatever- and that there is no shame in asking for help and asking for friends and family to be there for us. and as God comforts our souls and helps us heal, let us remember that His plan is perfect, and that there is always something good that comes out of every situation, even when we don’t see it at first.
“All The Whiskey In The World”, carrying on from the theme of “Your Drinkin’, My Problem”, speaks about the realities of the bottle and becoming drunk, with Carly reminding her ex right now, that drinking about his problems and issues won’t make him forget about Carly divorcing him, and that while he feeling sorry for himself and drinking his life away, Carly isn’t giving him another thought. With the song being directed to someone who clearly has an alcohol problem and may or may not want any help; Carly reminds us that sometimes we need to address the real issues in our lives instead of burying our heads in the sand, and acting like an ostrich. “Mean It This Time” ends the 15-track album, and as Carly sings about her potential second vows in the near or far future and how she want to ‘mean it this time’, she also reminds us that she isn’t downplaying her first marriage, but rather letting us know that perhaps she rushed into it sooner than she should have. Marriage is a big deal, and this melody reminds us that we need to be absolutely sure before we dive in. and as we dwell upon this entire album and think about what has made Carly grow as a person, let us remember that her failures can be our lessons in life, and that her stories are relevant and relatable to us because it’s so, so universal. Feeling stuck in a marriage and feeling unsure of your identity isn’t a feeling that is confined to women; and though this album feels like it may be advocating divorce for couples who aren’t compatible, I feel like this album speaks about a last resort- and something to keep in mind while trying to work on your own marriage and trying to rekindle whatever spark or flame you have lost.
“29” is the song that I never wished I’d write, but am now so blown away that I wrote. I never wanted to write a song that talked about something like going through a divorce. But the fact that I went that deep, just went for it, and was brutally honest, that just really, really makes me proud.
[Written in Stone comes from] a lyric in the very last song on the album, “Mean It This Time”—”When I say forever/ I’m gonna write it in stone.” So I kind of got to thinking about what “write it in stone” means to me.
I came up with, “Life is indelible, and your words, your actions, and your truth should be written in stone.” That’s exactly what I’ve done on this project. I can put it out there, let it out, and shut the door. This is the kind of album I never wanted to make, but in hindsight, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.
I’ve always thought I had to know about the artist inside and out before I enjoy an album of theirs. But Carly Pearce and her country/pop/bluegrass/acoustic sensibilities have proved me wrong. One of the most unique projects I’ve heard this year thus far (it’s Martina McBride meets Lady A meets Gabby Barrett meets The Chicks in my own honest opinion!); Carly Pearce reminds us that sometimes in the quiet, sometimes in the waiting and sometimes in the silence of lockdown, a gem can be found. It’s also an emotional album that speaks about the fragility of relationships yet also about the healing Jesus brings and the healing time brings from a situation. Some of us may not be in relationships at the moment, but 29: Written In Stone is needed so that we can be content in our own skin while God prepares our hearts for the person He has in store for us. Thus is there anything left for me to say? Other than I will listen to Carly’s debut album and any other subsequent albums because I am absolutely a fan of her music now? I really don’t think I need to say anything more. So well done Carly, for a thoroughly enjoyable album- an album that certainly makes us think!
4 songs to listen to: Diamondback, Dear Miss Loretta, 29, Day One
RIYL: Martina McBride, The Chicks, Faith Hill, Lady A, Gabby Barrett, Colbie Caillat, Jana Kramer, Little Big Town