Capitol Records / UMG Recordings
Release Date: August 14th 2020
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Just Friends
- Redhead (Feat. Reba McEntire)
- Looking For A Lighter
- Just Like You
- King Size Bed
- Forged In The Fire
- Family Tree
- Mean Something (feat. Ashley McBryde & Tenille Townes)
- Small Town Hypocrite
- New Level Of Life
I’ve been listening to Christian music ever since I was younger. I still do. It holds a special place in my heart as my faith has grown in leaps and bounds from listening to artists like Carman, Delirious?, Newsboys, Rebecca St. James, for KING & COUNTRY, Third Day, MercyMe, Casting Crowns, Steven Curtis Chapman, Natalie Grant and Michael W. Smith. But if you were to ask me which genre of music I’d listen to if Christian music ever were to disappear; I’d choose country music. In a heartbeat. Ever since I reviewed Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty, there’s been an upward trend of me being interested more and more in country music. I don’t know, there seems to be a realness and an authenticity and an honesty and a vulnerability that I can’t seem to find or pinpoint in the pop or rock mainstream music markets. I don’t know if you agree with me- maybe you do, but that’s just what I’ve found from observations. It also doesn’t do any harm when country music reviewer Grady Smith is continually releasing interesting videos about country music every few days or every week- listening to his takes on the latest and most inspiring in country music, actually gets me excited for country music. Wow, I never would imagine me saying that aloud even a year ago! However, with me reviewing Gabby Barrett’s Goldmine, Kelsea Ballerini’s kelsea, Lindsay Ell’s heart theory, Lauren Alaina’s Getting Good EP, and Maren Morris’ GIRL, as well as blogging about Maren Morris, Lauren Alaina, Hunter Hayes, Jana Kramer, Kelsea Ballerini, Thomas Rhett and Lindsay Ell all within the last year (with more and more country artists to be discussed and blogged about in the future!); the evidence is clear.
I’m a fan of country music, and now there’s no shame in me saying that. Now within the last couple of years or so, there have been some pretty decent and inspiring new and up-and-coming artists entering into the country genre (or at least solidifying their own mark!) and wowing and inspiring us all with their heartfelt lyrics and thought-provoking melodies. Russell Dickerson, RaeLynn, Maddie & Tae, Runaway June, Tenille Townes, Tenille Arts, Jimmie Allen, King Calaway, Luke Coombs, Brett Young, Chris Lane, even Cassadee Pope is coming more into her own of late; as well as more coverage for the aforementioned Lindsay Ell, Gabby Barrett, not to mention Florida Georgia Line still killing it, and breaking new ground by recording a worship album with CCM legend Chris Tomlin. Stalwarts like Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Lady A (fka Lady Antebellum) and Carrie Underwood are still going strong even though there is a Rascal Flatts sized hole in our hearts; while acts like Miranda Lambert, Dan + Shay, Thomas Rhett, Kane Brown, Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini are the future (or is it present?) of country music! Both Keith Urban and Tim McGraw are releasing their new studio albums very soon, while Dolly Parton is dropping a Christmas album in October. Yet amidst all of this country news though, one new artist has come out of nowhere and has stolen the headlines with her vivacious passion and burning desire to create heartfelt music and music that means something to somebody. Enter in Caylee Hammack.
I wanted every single song to have a real, true story behind it that I can tell onstage or in an interview and explain where every single lyric came from. In Nashville, so many times you just go in a room and you write something to write it. I wanted to make sure the songs I put out were my stories because I feel like your debut album is like a name tag you put on at a new party.
If it wasn’t for my dad who was a dreamer and my mama who’s a realist, I wouldn’t be exactly how I am. If it wasn’t for the boys that I dated that broke my heart time after time, I wouldn’t have been able to love as full as I can now. If these people weren’t willing to click on a YouTube video of a new artist they’ve never heard of, if they weren’t willing to listen when Spotify shuffles my song into their playlist, if they weren’t willing to listen, I could not get to do what I love.
I hope that through this album I have been as honest and as vulnerable and as candid with emotions and how I feel and what I’ve been through. I hope that I’ve put out enough of that so that people feel like they can truly be 100 percent themselves and unashamed of that when they’re at my concerts and when they write to me. I want to hear people’s stories, and the only way I can hear their stories is if I tell them mine.
Caylee Hammack, born in Ellaville, Georgia, has had a long road to stardom. Her Wikipedia page is quite, quite long (so I’m not repeating it all here, as you all can read the page and know all that there is to know about her!), as her ‘Early Life’ and ‘Career’ has reminded us that she’s no stranger to the stage. As Caylee has had so much rejection and so much heartache and hardship in her life, that it’s not even funny; for her to even release an album as personal, honest and emotional as the debut If It Wasn’t For You, which released this past week is remarkable and somewhat of a miracle in and of itself! When I first heard about Caylee’s new album and her story and the road she embarked on to get to where she is right now- I was blown away at the faithfulness of God in her life and the fingerprints that He has placed to show to us that He has moved; so much so that I needed to listen to the album! And so here we are a few days after the release date. And what is my verdict? Well it’s a mighty good effort for a debut, and actually a mighty good effort overall! With many tracks bringing tears to my eyes, we get the sense that we’re listening to a veteran here, and not a novice. If this is how Caylee’s debut sounds like, then she is going to become one of the all-time great country artists of the modern era within 5-10 years, no doubt!
Opening the track list is the no-nonsense no-holds-barred “Just Friends”, a rock/country hybrid that has Caylee channelling Dolly Parton (actually she channels Dolly’s vocals throughout the entire track-list!), as she presents a warning to the single people about the perils of giving your heart to another so, so quickly. In the song, the persona laments that maybe the failed relationship could’ve thrived if the two were just friends instead… and this song is thought-provoking as we all analyse our close relationships and determine whether we’ve taken the right step or not. “Just Friends” is sassy, energetic and intense, and as the rest of the album progresses, we get the sense that Caylee’s emotion and raw passion for telling stories translates through every single track on here! “Redhead”, another vibrant guitar led rocker, has Caylee and country icon Reba McEntire trading effortless harmonies together, as they champion girls with red hair (a silly song indeed!), which is actually a homage to Caylee’s older cousin who hated her red hair; while the emotional acoustic guitar driven “Looking For A Lighter” highlights how Caylee found some sentimental memories and letters from her ex, while she was looking for a lighter to smoke on her 23rd birthday- and while we don’t know if Caylee has kicked the habit of smoking yet, the fact remains that if she wasn’t looking for a lighter, she wouldn’t have found the letters and hence we wouldn’t have this hard-hitting song, and Caylee wouldn’t have had closure from the first boy who broke her heart.
For a country debut album, you probably would not expect songs of gratitude and thanks, but that’s exactly what we get with the chill and laid-back “Preciatcha”, as Caylee eloquently relays that she holds no grudges and ill will towards her ex and even towards her trials and tribulations- as all of these have made her into the strong woman she is today. Why would Caylee deny the things that made her who she is as a person? “Sister”, the raw, unfiltered and personal melody about Caylee’s sister and their fractured relationship, reminds us to hold onto the people we love and cherish the people close to us as we do not know when the circumstances will rip them from our lives; while on the other hand, “Just Like You” isn’t an inspiring song at all- but maybe it’s supposed to be that way, as the hard hitting guitar led anthem relays to us that Caylee is going to act like her ex and give him a dose of his own medicine, as payback for acting like a buffoon and treating women poorly. “King Size Bed” is the mid point of the album- and as Caylee effortlessly relays to us about the time when she was in a somewhat toxic relationship with a guy and their time together was like a bomb ticking on a king size bed, we are forced to examine as to whether our relationships are healthy or not. And if they’re not, we need to cut them out of our life.
At 23, going through that [fire], I had my family and also I had my friends, and I realized so much about that. I put a lot into ‘Forged in the Fire,’ because you don’t realize how much you put your worth into the things around you. I realized how much I loved my little things, because it was almost like visible proof of ‘You’re on your own. You have your own couch.’ Yeah, it was hand-me-down, but that’s your own couch. All of a sudden that was all gone. I had good friends that just showed up out of the woodwork, and we went through everything and found a bunch of different little things that meant the world to me, like my grandmother’s quilt that inspired the first verse. A piece of Sheetrock fell over it right before the fire came through that part of the attic. I realized how little that meant in comparison to people showing up to help you. It’s funny, it was so hard at the time. Everyone kept telling me, ‘Oh, you’re like a phoenix. You’re going to rise from this.’ And I was like, ‘How? Who builds the wings, buddy?’ It was frustration, but also me trying to desperately find some hope.
I wanted to make sure that every single song had a true story behind it, and that I could tell people the story behind it because what I really love about country music is that we’re telling stories about our lives and the people in our lives. It kind of feels like a diary sometimes, but I wanted to make sure that I could showcase the growing pains of being a young artist and just a young woman in this world.
Probably one of the most inspired and confronting songs from Caylee is the radio friendly ballad “Forged In The Fire”- inspired by the fire that ran through her house in 2017, the tangible things that she found from the wreckage that had survived (including a Bible and Caylee’s grandmother’s quilt), the people showing up to help Caylee survive the ordeal, as well as the friendships forged. Simplistic in theme, the execution musically and vocally is sublime and top notch, as Caylee delivers the performance of a lifetime, with so much enthusiasm and passion- relaying the fact that often it’s when we go through the fire that God refines our character and makes us stronger people. Radio single “Family Tree”, the poppiest song on the album, is next, and has Caylee again giving thanks, but this time for her family, as crazy as they are. As Caylee counts her blessings, across big booming electronics and synth, we are presented with the ever true notion that despite the difference of family, family sticks together and nothing and no one can ever shake that family bond.
Camaraderie and friendship is further explored in the stirring and emphatic collaboration of “Mean Something”, as Caylee is joined by Tenille Townes and Ashley McBryde to create a thought provoking anthem which basically relays that we each want our life to mean something important and fulfilling and satisfying for ourselves and for our loved ones around us, so that the work we do and the hours we toil are not in vain. While one of the most personal and vulnerable songs from Caylee that she’s ever written is “Small Town Hypocrite”, where Caylee recounts her failed relationship with a guy that she dropped out of university and the scholarship she was being offered, and lamenting over what she lost through that ordeal. It’s a bitter yet still confident track that essentially asks the guy ‘why did you do what you did’- and while this song may resonate with many, it isn’t my most favourite song, given that it’s a tad too slow and lullaby-ish.
On the drive into the studio, I was having my morning talk with God. Finally, this line just came out of the sky and it was like, ‘If pain is art, you have given me gold. You have truly given me gold.’ As a kid I used to pray, ‘Just give me a life that I would read about. Give me a life that’s exciting on every page.’ I feel like that’s exactly what he kind of did, and it made me laugh that morning. I just walked in and asked Mikey, ‘Will you just record me?’ I sat down and started playing an old guitar, thumbing around on it. It was a very odd tuning that is so hard to find again every time I play it, but I started just singing, and that first take is really me just ad-libbing through. That’s the take we kept. I just wanted one on the record that was no production, no Auto-Tune, no tongue-in-cheek thing I’m saying.
The spontaneous ‘free worship’ kind of prayer “Gold”, has Caylee singing a song of gratitude and thanks, as she thanks God for His providence, and for giving her the life that she’s lived- the pseudo title track reminds us that if it wasn’t for God, then our lives would be worse off. If It Wasn’t For You ends with the 3 minute pop tune “New Level Of Life”, with Caylee ardently praising and thanking her exes for indirectly helping her to where she is at now as a person. Is the song tongue in cheek? Not sure…maybe, maybe not. But one thing is for certain and that is that Caylee is a confident young women with a message of thankfulness and gratitude- shown in “Forged In The Fire” most of all- and that gratitude and joy and happiness evident in this record is mightily infectious and contagious in an extremely good way!
Caylee Hammack’s debut reinforces my belief that country music is one of the most inspiring and honest and authentic genres in the mainstream media. This album has cemented my belief that great things are going to happen for the genre in the coming months and years- and with many up and coming artists that I have either resonated with or am eager to delve into because I haven’t heard enough to actually like them, but enough to be interested and curious; Caylee has hence done her job here. An album with a lot of heart and soul and tons of relevant messages, this album is for those who need encouragement, no matter the day or the night. So what are you all waiting for? Caylee is here to stay, and you all better listen up to what she has to say as well! Well done Caylee, I can’t wait to hear what God has in store for you next!
3 songs to listen to: Sister, Forged In The Fire, Family Tree
RIYL: Dolly Parton, Lindsay Ell, Gabby Barrett, Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini, Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Miranda Lambert, Maddie & Tae