Big Loud Records
Release Date: June 9th 2023
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- A Walk in The Bar
- Don’t Judge A Woman
- Smaller the Town
- Like Her
- Thicc As Thieves (feat. Lainey Wilson)
Lauren Alaina has been impacting music for about a decade now. We as a site covered her in a blog post earlier on during 2020; and wrote about her impact and influence on music not only being made now, but impacting the culture of music into the future- the blog can be seen here, as we discussed Lauren’s albums like Wildflower (2011) and Road Less Travelled (2017), as this aspiring country musician has been challenging my own preconceptions about what I thought the genre was. Since hearing her standout songs ‘Doin’ Fine’ and ‘Road Less Travelled’ some years ago, I’ve been an on-and-off fan of hers for a few years now, and while I haven’t listened to her extensively (my brother was the one who wrote the blog post about her last year), I have heard her songs here and there over the years, and have seen the level of songwriting ability and enthustiastic passion of hers that is very much akin to country queen herself, Carrie Underwood, and Lauren’s ability to write power-pop anthems like ‘Road Less Travelled’, coupled with her vulnerable songwriting in tracks like ‘Three’, ‘The Other Side’ and ‘Getting Good’, reminds me of how talented she really is. It was her 2021 album Sitting Pretty On Top of the World that I reviewed for the site here, that made me become a fan of hers, as the 15 track album encompassed everything that was right in country music right now- songs like ‘Getting Good’, ‘Getting Over Him’, ‘What Do You Think Of’ and ‘Run’ were from previous EPs, while newer songs ‘If the World Was a Small Town’, ‘It Was Me’, ‘On Top of the World’ and ‘When the Party’s Over’ stood out lyrically on the album as well. Sitting Pretty On Top of the World was one of hope, healing, heartbreak; and toe-tapping fun, as we heard tears of joy, laughter, vulnerability, refining and growth all wrapped up into 50 minutes. Now around a couple years later on from her 2021 album release, we see Lauren back at it again, this time, an EP unveiled independently via Big Loud Records, titled Unlocked.
Released in early June 2023, Lauren has unveiled 6 songs of vulnerability, emotion, heartfelt moments of tranquility while also delivering song other songs full of sass, spunk and jovial fun, as these set of six tracks has perhaps been some of her most honest songs I’ve heard from her thus far. ‘A Walk in the Bar’ is track #1 on the EP, and here on this track, we see Lauren deliver this understanding, that getting over someone who has broken your heart, isn’t going to be a walk in the park, but rather, a walk in the bar…maybe in both a physical sense as well as a metaphorical sense? Maybe instead of moping about and wishing things were different, people ought to ‘get out there’, not necessarily to ‘find a rebound’, but to at least mix with society, and to strike up conversations that may be healing for the heartbreak in the soul, as well. None of the conversations that start in the bar have to end up in the place were people always assume they end up in…it can just be an innocent conversation between two people that could just end up being really good friends…and that’s ok. ‘A Walk in the Bar’ is a song that can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and if people want to use such a tune, to justify their reasons for rebounds so shortly after breakups, then I guess they could, but the way I see it is this- that ‘A Walk in the Bar’ is a way of gaining some confidence after something so tragic, heartbreaking and just plain messy.
Throughout the rest of the EP, we see Lauren deliver vulnerability after vulnerability, as this EP starts to become one of the most personable collection of songs Lauren has written thus far in her music career. ‘Hangovers’ is a song of lament, of how she wishes that heartbreaks are just like hangovers- easy to get over, after a day or two. But that isn’t necessarily the case- life doesn’t work that way, and sometimes, it may take months or even years to resolve things about a broken relationship that may even stem from someone’s own personal childhood. ‘Hangovers’ requires us to understand that life is more complex than what we hoped it would be, and that by the end of it all, that it’s ok for us to have a heartbreak that is way more ____ than a hangover, so that whatever issues are fleshed out and dealt with, can be. ‘Don’t Judge A Woman’ is by far Lauren’s most poignant and compelling moment on the EP, as the song relays this understanding that is so often overlooked- not to judge a woman by the man that she was with, or to not even judge a woman by whatever standard that we may set herself up to (or even the standard that she herself sets as well). People are complex, and emotions are hard. There can be many reasons why a relationship fails, and the quick thing to do is to point the finger and to always find an answer or have an opinion. This song calls for more grace to be presented to the situation, as Lauren reminds us that ‘…maybe he’s a phase, maybe he’s a rebound, might’ve been the one or a one night stand, maybe he’s a nice guy but only on the inside and she’s tried to leave him but maybe she can’t, you ain’t in the heels she’s walking in, so don’t judge a book by its cover or a woman by her man…’ We don’t know someone else’s life; and shouldn’t act as though we do.
‘Smaller the Town’ shows us the two sides to the town in general- the glamourous side, of how we know everyone and have a tight-knit community and friends for life when you grow up in such a town as described in the song, as well as the ‘dark side’- the side that comes immediately after a heartbreak, especially when the someone else, is from the same said town as you. Everyone knows everyone, and so a heartbreak in a small town is exacerbated and exemplified, x 100. The EP is then rounded out with ‘Like Her’ and ‘Thicc as Thieves’- the former is a song where Lauren herself (or maybe even a persona) sees her ex with someone new; and wants to hate the other girl with everything that she’s got…but she ends up liking her instead, for whatever reason. Maybe there’s this taboo around ex-girlfriends and current girlfriends being friends in general, and maybe this song touches on that a bit. Whatever the case, being friends with your ex’s current partner is always going to be messy, but can it even work anyway? Who knows. The EP ends with ‘Thicc as Thieves’, a duet with up-and-coming country singer-songwriter Lainey Wilson, and is just a fun-filled jive track about celebrating women of different shapes and sizes…maybe the song could be championing body positivity, just a bit? The up-tempo duet showcases both Lauren and Lainey trade verses on what is sure to be an upbeat live hit, as the crowd are sure to sing out, alongide the duo, that ‘…we’re thicker than our accents, thicker than our hair, thicker than the Georgia and Louisiana air, thicker than molasses from the patches to the seams, stealing hearts is in our jeans, us southern girls, we’re thicc as thieves, we’re thicc as thieves…’
So…there it is. Unlocked, Lauren’s most recent project, and perhaps her most vulnerable. An EP that virtually has no ‘filler’ spots, Lauren’s EP is a reminder that country projects by females are making a comeback- and so they should. And if Lauren Alaina and her new EP, together with other female artists like Cassadee Pope, Lindsay Ell, Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris, Mickey Guyton and Carly Pearce; can move the needle and really remind us all of the quality of female country artists out there at the moment, we can hopefully have more of an option when it comes to country music (and music in general), something different than the same ol’ music that keeps being promoted all the time. Nothing wrong with male artists, in country music and in music in general. But unfortunately, as we see country male artists like Florida Georgia Line (and now, Tyler Hubbard), Dan + Shay, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Kane Brown, Dierks Bentley, Sam Hunt and Russell Dickerson, dominate the market; I myself have come to this conclusion- that unfortunately, a lot of male country artists blend together- musically, stylistically and thematically (like all these artists aforementioned), and I, as much of a country music fan as I am, can’t really tell the distinguishing traits each of these male country acts have that make them different and unique. Artists like Thomas Rhett, Keith Urban, Luke Combs, Chris Stapleton, Darius Rucker, Rascal Flatts, Hunter Hayes and Willie Nelson buck the trend a little, delivering uniqueness in a sea of sameness, but to be honest, that’s few and far between. So, I guess the rise of female artists that are disctinctive in their craft is a plus, because it gives people options- something different than all the artists people have been listening to for decades upon decades- different music artists, but virtually similar song material nonetheless. Lauren Alaina, and this new EP, can contribute to this shift in country music (something that should be welcomed). An artist that has challenged my own assumptions on what I believed country music to be, Lauren’s heart is evident on not only this EP, but throughout her discography as a whole. Well done Lauren for this EP, looking forward to see how the Lord uses this set of songs to impact and affect change in the upcoming weeks and months ahead!
3 songs to listen to: Don’t Judge A Woman, Like Her, A Walk in the Bar
RIYL: Carrie Underwood, Cassadee Pope, Lindsay Ell, Maddie & Tae, The Shires