Release Date: July 22nd 2022
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
Nicolle Galyon– Firstborn (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Boy Crazy
- Five Year Plan
- Younger Woman
- Death Bed
By the time you’re reading this review, you probably know that one of my favourite music genres at the moment is the country genre. It wasn’t in the past, but ever since I listened to Carrie Underwood’s album Cry Pretty way back in 2018, I’ve found that country music is so incredibly raw, personal, honest, vulnerable, and emotional. You can also read from my country reviews here, that I have resonated deeply with country music over the past few years, even though I’m not from America. Nowadays, I’m much more inclined to listen to and resonate with a country album, than with a worship album or a CCM album. Yep, that’s how much I love country music, and this year alone, as a site we’ve reviewed country albums from Walker Hayes, The Shires, Carrie Underwood, Thomas Rhett, Miranda Lambert, Kiefer Sutherland, Reba McEntire, Maren Morris, Tenille Townes, Hailey Whitters, Maddie & Tae, Brett Eldredge, Kylie Morgan, Shania Twain, High Valley and CCM artist Anne Wilson. We’re also planning to review in the future, albums from Mitchell Tenpenny, Breland, Kane Brown, Little Big Town, Kelsea Ballerini, and Ingrid Andress. I firmly reckon there’s never been a better time to listen to country music than this year… and this sentiment is confirmed in this next album that I felt I had to review. Singer/songwriter Nicolle Galyon is incredibly famous in the country music scene for writing plenty of hits with a lot of country artists. Nicolle is a songwriter first and foremost (like other songwriters like Dianne Warren, Julia Michaels, and Jason Ingram); and so, I was intrigued when I heard of her debut album releasing this year. I knew I wanted to listen to the album. But boy, I wasn’t prepared for the level of awesomeness and inspiration that has flowed from Nicolle’s pen to our ears. This album, though labelled country, is more reflective ballads, and if that isn’t your thing, then you can just coast on by to another artist that resonates more with you. But if you’re willing to give Firstborn a chance; then I reckon you may have just found the album of the year.
I’m having so much fun being brave and opening the door to be surprised by people’s responses and what the world comes back with as I offer this to the world. When I started Songs & Daughters [my record label] three years ago, it gave me incredible insight and empathy to executives in the business because it was the first time I had ever really stepped into that space myself and had to make executive decisions. Putting out this record has given me the exact same insight and empathy to the artists that I work with. It’s one thing to sit in a conference room and to be able to talk about music or to talk about careers, but it’s a totally different thing to be the one that actually puts your name and face next to it.
I’ve had the luxury to know that I can put this record out and it’s not so much about the release week for me. It’s more about the long-term journey that the record takes. … I’m so proud of these songs and I’m so proud of the team behind the scenes that I’m working with. I’ve fallen in love with the process of putting out music because I’ve never gotten to be on this side of it.
While it’s rare to make a debut album at 38, it’s also impossible to write a memoir at 21. This is something that I would want to see more of, so I’m trying to be it. Creativity and storytelling has always been my way of subtly getting to become what I want to stand for. If I think that someone at 38 should put out a record, I’m just going to go put out a record. I’m not going wait for somebody else to do it.
I really wrote it for or them to listen to when they’re older. When they’re 21, 22 trying to figure out who they really are, I hope that this can be the guide for them to know where they came from. I think they like the songs now at seven and nine, but again, the music business is all about the long game. For me, the long game for this record is for them to connect with it when they’re adults.
I don’t know much about Nicolle and her story and her background. Yet when listening to this album, I feel that I don’t need to know all of the details of Nicolle’s life. because Firstborn tells the story of Nicolle’s life quite well. Opening up with the powerful and poignant acoustic guitar led ballad “Winner”, Nicolle passionately and fervently relays vulnerable and honest truths and happenings about her life thus far- Nicolle sings out that ‘…I lost my dad at three, along with half my family tree, and I lost my virginity later than everybody and still wasn’t ready, I lost my first hometown and a box with my Homecomin’ crown, chasin’ down that Nashville sound in a ’92 hand-me-down…’. However, Nicolle also relays that throughout her time when she was chasing being a ‘winner’ in her life (she was born in a town called Winner, and her name in Greek means victory of the people); she ended up realising that chasing material success doesn’t make you happy in the end. In the chorus, Nicolle asks the question of ‘…what good is bein’ a winner when all you’re doing’s keepin’ score?…’; and as we are delivered a stellar melody as an opener, we are reminded that we all need to find our inner peace within ourselves and in Jesus Christ before we even think about fame, money, fortune and everything else associated with that whole ‘rabbit hole’.
The rest of Firstborn is extremely personal to Nicolle, but also relatable and relevant to each of us. “Sunflower” is an inspirational kind of melody, as Nicolle reminds us that it’s ok to be ‘too much’ of something- that it’s ok to stand out amongst the crowd and be different to the norm: “Sunflower” is really just about anyone that feels like they’re too much — too much of anything. Being tall was just one of the ways that I felt like too much in my childhood. And now I have a daughter that often feels like she’s too much in her own way: Maybe her feelings are too much, on top of the fact that she is the tallest girl in second grade now. And so Charlie, my daughter, was really an inspiration for that, because she reminded me of myself at that age. The sunflower, in all of its qualities, has kind of been a symbol of strength and pride for me, the way that it turns to the sun and basically keeps its head up and held high. The idea that you’ll become somebody that people look to, if you just hold your own, I think that’s what that song means for me. “Boy Crazy”, a sharp dig and savage jab and the different unspoken rules put in place for girls and for boys, reminds us all of the different standards that boys and girls have, and about how society never really reprimands the man, but almost always chides and shuns the woman (for reasons that need to be addressed!). It’s a subtle call-out to all of the men, reminding us all that we need to respect the women in our lives all the more; while Nicolle also creates near-flawless art with the elegant and powerful ballad “Disneyworld”, where Nicolle admits to never really being the girl that went on holidays when she was younger, yet also concludes that she became successful and happy because of all of the work she put in and all of the sacrifices she made for her family. The piano led track “Consequences” is another personal and thought-provoking melody, and is a harrowing, personal melody about Nicolle’s previous toxic relationship with an ex; with Nicolle reminding us all, that we need to be able to protect ourselves from people who put us down and make us feel small.
“Self-Care”, a revealing, vulnerable and thought-provoking track, speaks about the lies that the media and the TV sells us in order for us to be ‘popular’ and ‘liked’, that we ‘need’ to fix our flaws on our face and our body instead of fully loving who we are in this present moment; while “Boy” is a personal, honest and emotional tribute and homage to Nicolle’s son Ford, with Nicolle earnestly and powerfully relaying that ‘…you’re gonna drive and kiss, and throw a punch, and grow up way too fast, you’re gonna drop the ball, and hit the wall, and break some hearts like glass, I know ya will, ’cause you’re a part of me, and a part of you will always be a boy…’. “Boy” is one of the most relevant and relatable from the album, because as much as we all may have screwed up our lives through poor decisions and dumb things we do along the way, this track provides wisdom and advice to the next generation, and advice that we would want to pass on to our children in the future. “Tendencies”, a hard slog of a wrestle and a war in the mind, speaks about having vices or ‘tendencies’ to do the things that we wouldn’t normally do in our sane mind, with Nicolle outlining that doesn’t want to pass on her habits and flaws to her children- she would like to keep them safe from things in her past that she isn’t proud of; while “Five Year Plan”, co-written with her husband Rodney Clawson is quite probably the pinnacle of this project in a lyrical sense.
With Nicolle singing about some of the most vulnerable parts of her own life and about how her now-husband came along and wrecked all of her long-term plans about how her life was going to go; “Five Year Plan” speaks about how you can’t plan for the unexpected, and about how sometimes you have to roll with the punches of life, and enjoy every moment in the moment you’re living in. “Five Year Plan” tears up our concepts of how ‘plans’ should go; and reminds us that we shouldn’t get so busy making plans, that we forget to make a life. “Younger Woman”, a no-holds-barred and powerful ballad, is an admission of Nicole not really caring anymore about people’s opinions, while she also realises that the older she becomes, the much more carefree and relaxed she is. Firstborn then ends with the introspective and reflective “Death Bed”, where Nicolle sings a song for her children, and relays that her life and legacy will be complete because of her love for them: I started the record with a song that I needed to write for me, and then I ended the record with a song I needed to write for [my children]. ‘death bed.’ was really the whole reason that I made this record. You hear about people getting sick and they write letters to their kids on their birthdays, should they not be there for them, or on big events in the future. Over the last few years, with all that’s gone on in the world, I’ve just been more and more aware of the brevity of life. That got me thinking, ‘Gosh, if anything ever happened to me, what would my kids know about me?’ And so, I wanted to make sure that I wrote it all down, and I felt like doing it in song form was the best way I knew to do that because that’s the way that I write every day.
I always knew that I would make a record at some point. It was just a matter of: I needed a why. Because being a staff songwriter, you’re shooting in all different directions at all times, and what you’re writing for and how you’re writing can change day to day or hour to hour. And I really needed focus. So I think I realized — not as a songwriter so much, but more as a mother — that if anything were to ever happen to me, what are the things that I would want my kids? How would I want them to remember me? What would I want them to know about me, and why I was the way I was?
And that came from me observing over the last few years a lot of loss for a lot of people. It seemed like in that loss, what people would cling to are the stories about those people that they had lost, whether it was a grandparent or a parent or family member or friend, you even notice on Instagram. And I thought, gosh, if anything happened to me, what are the stories that my kids would tell? What do they even know so far about me? So that’s where the idea of “Firstborn” came from, which was: Before you were born, I had to be born. Before all these other things that I’ve made — the songs, the [Songs and Daughters] record label — I had to be born. And I’ve never gotten to write that story.
A masterpiece and a near-flawless album from start to finish, Nicolle Galyon’s Firstborn isn’t an album for the faint of hearted. There are songs about mortality, vices, self-worth, identity issues, standing out as an individual, as well as realising that you don’t have to chase material possessions to win at life. These are heavy topics, and you need to be in the right frame of mind to listen to these songs. However, if you give Nicolle’s album a chance, then I guarantee that you’ll be blown away, and presented with a listening experience like no other. Nicolle is a creative and skilful storyteller, and her craft is evident all throughout on this debut album. There’s nothing much more I need to say about this project- because simply put, I reckon it’s one of the most inspiring, poignant, moving, impactful and honest of the whole year. Well done Nicolle, I can’t wait to hear what’s next for you in the future!
Loving yourself is, especially I think for women, a lifelong journey. It’s a choice every day, and you have good moments, and you have bad moments. But it seems that the older I get, the more I do genuinely like me. It’s hard for me to imagine ever wanting to go back to be a younger version of myself. So why would I try to make myself look younger, or try to pull off the illusion that I’m younger than I am? Because this version of me is probably my favorite so far. As I’ve gotten older, I wouldn’t trade anything.
We’re all in the music business. How often do you hear an artist say, “This is my most personal record yet,” and then on the next record, “That wasn’t really me. This is my most personal record.” And the beauty of doing this for the first time now is that I feel like I got to work through all the rough drafts, maybe, of who I am in private, and now with the first public music that I really put out, I have a pretty good sense of who I am and what I want to say.
I think I’m ruined forever in the best way, because this has been so fulfilling that I just want to continue to lean into this kind of writing. Whether it’s for me or other people, I want to be this personal and this honest, always, in my writing. To not have to have the timeline of, “OK, we gotta write this kind of song for this artist who’s cutting next week.” To be able to just say it for the pure creativity of saying it, and really for the only metric to be honest. I felt I spoiled myself in that way.
3 songs to listen to: Sunflower, Boy. Five-Year Plan
RIYL: Walker Hayes, Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, Dan & Shay, Scotty McCreery, Miranda Lambert, Mandy Moore, Nichole Nordeman