Black Rive Entertainment
Release Date: March 20th 2020
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- homecoming queen?
- the other girl (with Halsey)
- love me like a girl
- love and hate
- hole in the bottle
- half of my hometown (feat. Kenny Chesney)
- the way i used to
- a country song
Throughout my childhood, further along in my teenage years and then beyond that until now, I had never really been an active fan of country music. My musical tastes growing up were pretty stock standard as far as a believer in Jesus growing up would listen to- as my family life was pretty sheltered, I was introduced to Carman and Delirious?. Over the years I branched out into other types of music, but it was these two bands that essentially saw me through high school when push came tot shove. Yet while I was branching out into other types of music, there was one type of music which I hadn’t actively sought. And that was country music. That southern twang, and the lyrics about girls and cars and beers and more cars… it grated and annoyed me to no end. And up until around about one and a half years ago, I had only listened to a handful of Carrie Underwood songs- and that was only because a few of her songs were playing on the local radio station. Yet with Jon starting up his Momentous Mondays blog post about influential artists of all time, as well as me reviewing Carrie’s latest album Cry Pretty; country music came back to my attention, particularly when I realised that quite a lot of country tracks have thoughtful, poignant, heartwarming and inspirational messages that are relevant to society…even though these songs don’t overtly talk about Jesus.
I was taught from a young age that any music outside of ‘Christian music’ wasn’t worth listening to- but now I know that that isn’t the case. Any type of music can be used by God to speak to you, and this is especially true of country music. Established artists like Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Rascal Flatts, Lady Antebellum and Keith Urban, along with up and coming artists like Maren Morris, Lauren Alaina, Dan + Shay and Hunter Hayes have all contributed inspirational and relevant songs which have graced my ears over the past year and a half (and you can read about Jon’s and my thoughts on country artists in a few of our Momentous Mondays blogs!)- and it’s only recently that I have concluded that country music, aside from CCM, is one of the most vulnerable and honest genres out there. For the purposes of this review though, one artist this year stands out amongst all country artists- up and coming singer/songwriter Kelsea Ballerini’s latest album (her 3rd studio project kelsea) confirms my thought processes, as I am introduced to one of today’s most skilful and impacting young artists today and one of the most confronting and comforting albums all year.
Truth be told, I hadn’t heard much of Kelsea Ballerini’s material until late last year. I’ve heard her name thrown around- enough to know that she’s a ‘big-ish’ deal currently in country music- and it was only when I heard her song “club” playing on one of my Spotify playlists (and that didn’t even sound like your typical ‘country’ at all!) that I sat up and took notice. Not to bag country or anything, but maybe nine times out of ten your typical country song probably won’t be heard by the general population simply because it’s country. But for Kelsea and her ‘brand’ of heartwarming, comforting and catchy ‘country pop’ which is evident all throughout these 13 tracks; perhaps there is hope for country to invade mainstream pop radio and show the rest of the world that the country genre isn’t the big bad evil thing it’s been made out to be.
Even from glancing at the unassuming song titles, one can tell that the subject matter overall on Kelsea’s album is so much more than what people assume country music to be. That’s certainly the case with the album opener “overshare”. Sporting a fun beat and an upbeat tempo, Kelsea dives deep into the vulnerable and the messy, relaying to us that in most conversations she talks and talks and talks and overshares about any and everything that she can think of. While I’m not sure if this is a true fact or not, the fact remains that most of the times where we try to dominate a conversation is because we want to mask over our own insecurities of whether people will like us if we reveal the real us to them. It’s a heavy and meaty topic first up, but as we know that Kelsea’s not messing around on subject matter, it is the music and the vibrancy in this track also that draws us in, even if the subject matter can hit home to us. A smart ploy on Kelsea’s part as this track pulls us in then hooks us in further with its personal lyrics; “overshare” serves as a brilliant backdrop to a impacting and powerful album.
The rest of the 12 tracks peel back the layer that is Kelsea Ballerini, revealing a complex and multifaceted singer that is sure to have us dancing on our toes yet sitting in contemplative reflection also- which is definitely a good thing, as these songs have substance. On the surface, the poppy 3 minute “club”- Kelsea’s first single on this project- is an anti-‘get out and have fun at the bar’ type of song, but a look deeper reveals that Kelsea prefers to stay home instead of partying outside as she values being in control of her actions, knowing that in the long run partying outside while there’s a chance of your drink being spiked isn’t worth it. As Kelsea passionately reiterates that ‘…I don’t wanna wake up on the floor of a bathroom, lookin’ at the stamps on my hand like a tattoo, say I’m never doin’ that again if I don’t have to…’, we are reminded that we don’t need to be inebriated to have a good time. If we know we’ll be compromised and if the cost is too great, then why can’t we stay home instead of going to the club? The acoustic guitar driven tear-jerker “homecoming queen?” follows, and is just as inspiring even though musically polar opposites to “club”, as Kelsea imparts to us that everyone is human and everyone can cry and have feelings- no one is immune to sadness hence no one can judge another’s faults and failings; while the confronting “the other girl” is a stirring empowering duet with Halsey, as the duo sing about a guy who has two lovers- and the two women in the end banding together to teach him a lesion- a fictitious story yet nonetheless a warning to treat women with respect and honour.
If you thought the first few tracks were heavy, things get really real in the acoustic guitar driven “love me like a girl”, whereby Kelsea sings to her significant other, asking him to listen to her problems and issues, to not to try to solve them, but to listen like her friends do. Sometimes as people we try to overanalyse situations, we find ourselves in, or try to ‘fix’ a problem…it’s the rational side of us, and we’ve all done this at one point or another in our lives. Yet Kelsea is conveying this concept that seems foreign to us, but it’s oh so true, and very much needed in society today. And it is this. That sometimes people don’t want an answer when they are hurting. They need a friend or a shoulder to cry on. That’s why I reckon “love me like a girl” is probably one of the most important songs ever made this year- as it encourages us to deconstruct everything we’ve learnt about trying to comfort and help someone in our own way, and just sit with the person and just be. Sometimes it’s healing to the person if we’re just there and no words are offered. So thank you Kelsea for this gem of a track and easily the standout melody here.
The raw emotion and honesty continue to flow in the vulnerable radio friendly “love and hate”, as Kelsea powerfully relays to us that sometimes the line between hate and love is very thin, and especially so if the significant other cheats as in the case of this song (which may or may not be based in reality), while the upbeat and musically bouncy pop tune “bragger” heaps tons of praises onto Kelsea’s husband as she unashamedly brags about him to her friends, family and the world- and is only a fraction of the praises and love that God lavishes onto us, for simply the reason that we are His child. “hole in the bottle” surprisingly is about what you’d think, as Kelsea reminisces about how she has drunk a lot of wine in one sitting while heartbroken over a breakup; and though this song is superficial, it is indeed valid as it speaks about being honest and vulnerable about your feelings or even lack of feelings! While Kelsea brings the subject matter back to impacting, honest, personal and relevant with the stirring duet “half of my hometown” with Kenny Chesney. As the two singers eloquently and seamlessly sing in harmony, reminding us all that we all have roots in our past that are part of who we are, no matter if we want to run away from them or not; we are presented with one of the most emotional tracks of 2020, and a reminder that we all need to not forget where we came from and the people who we grew up with- the person who we are is most likely influenced by our past. So no matter how dark or messy it is, I reckon we always have to be grateful and thankful- and that is what this song is trying to accomplish.
“the way I used to” is probably Kelsea at one of her most vulnerable moments, as she emotionally relays about how she thinks about her ex while drunk, and wonders if he still loves her- a track about being a mess yet still an honest track; while “needy” is a pop type of country song whereby Kelsea explains to her husband (or significant other if the song is sung from another point of view) that he makes her needy and makes her want him in a way that’s incomprehensible and out-of-this-world, even if she still is independent most of the time. It’s songs like “needy” and “the way I used to” that remind us that we as humans need other people in our lives, be it in a romantic or platonic way- because if we do not, we simply cannot survive. Thus I commend Kelsea for diving deep and talking about these issues that aren’t predominately brought to the surface normally. “a country song” is unfortunately one of the low points on this already impressive project, as Kelsea includes tons of country clichés as she sings about the very act of writing a country song, while kelsea ends with the reflective and introspective acoustic guitar driven “la”, as Kelsea sings about her love and hate relationship with Los Angeles, California and how at times she feels lost and homesick and at other times she feels on top of the world and ready to make a new life in that city. While most of us feel pretty excited and enthusiastic to move to a new city, Kelsea’s feelings of anxiousness and trepidation remind us all that sometimes it’s ok to long for home and be homesick- because that’s what it means to be human.
Kelsea Ballerini’s self titled album doesn’t really revolutionise the country music genre. Nor are her songs super, super country- dare I say that this album is more pop and acoustic/folk, with a couple of out and out country songs thrown in (like “half of my hometown”). Yet there’s something about this project that will certainly make me revisit these songs again and again. Maybe it’s Kelsea’s passion or the fact that it seems like she’s being super honest. Maybe it’s her fun demeanour that shines through, or maybe it’s because these songs make it seem like Kelsea’s one of the rare genuine people in the music industry that are actually happy. But whatever the case, if you were like me before and not a fan of country music whatsoever, I reckon that Kelsea’s new album will make you a fan. I certainly has for me- and I will be definitely voicing my further thoughts about Kelsea in my Momentous Mondays’ blog later on this year. So shall we say that Kelsea may be a young Carrie Underwood in the making? From the looks of this album she may be well on the way!
3 songs to listen to: club, love me like a girl, half of my hometown
RIYL: Lady Antebellum, Dixie Chicks, Maren Morris, Kane Brown, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert