Carly Pearce achieved a breakthrough with her number one smash ‘Every Little Thing’ in 2017 and since then she’s released two albums – 2017’s ‘Every Little Thing’ and 2020’s ‘Carly Pearce’. In 2019 she married fellow Country singer Michael Ray but the marriage didn’t last with the two calling time less than a year after saying ‘I do’. During that time Pearce also suffered the devastating loss of her producer busbee and for a while she found herself retreating from the spotlight. The life changes she experienced resulted in her 7-track collection ‘29’, which was released back in February, and following the set’s widespread acclaim Pearce has expanded it into a full 15-track album, ‘29: Written In Stone’.
‘29: Written In Stone’ features all 7 tracks from ‘29’ woven into the track listing alongside the new songs. This set, her first full-length album since the passing of busbee, sees Pearce turning to Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne to produce the set with both having a hand in the writing of some of these tracks too. Pearce has, until the release of ‘29’ any way, mostly stuck somewhere between Country and Pop but for this album she’s fully embracing the Country tradition that inspired her to be a singer and a songwriter. With plenty of nods to the 90s, the decade that female artists ruled radio, ‘29’ opens with the fiery ‘Diamondback’ a foot-stomping kiss-off to an ex co-written with Kelsea Ballerini, Tofer Brown and McAnally. It’s a bold start that sets the tone for an album full of personal stories and impressive production that really highlights Pearce’s strengths in a way fans haven’t heard before.
‘What He Didn’t Do’, a song that went viral after Pearce performed an acoustic version at Nashville’s Listening Café, is a clever play on words as Pearce refuses to air her dirty laundry, instead choosing to highlight all the things that Ray didn’t do during their relationship and marriage. That makes the song more cutting while allowing Pearce, as always, to keep it classy. ‘Easy Going’ is one of the first highlights on the record, written with Natalie Hemby and Josh Osborne. It brings to mind Shania Twain during her ‘The Woman In Me’ days mixing bluegrass rhythms with Pearce’s strong vocal. The final 90 seconds of the song is an instrumental that’ll have you clapping your hands and celebrating that there’s a mainstream artist making real Country music.
‘Dear Miss Loretta’ featuring Patty Loveless, which was released the day Pearce become an Opry member, is a real traditional throwback co-written with Brandy Clark and McAnally. Pearce sings about living the words of Loretta Lynn’s songs even though they’ve had very different lives and experiences. It’s a clever parallel and the inclusion of Loveless gives it an even stronger tie back to the 90s Country sound that dominates the record. I’m not going to spend too much time talking about the 7 tracks that were included on ‘29’ as I already reviewed those in depth, but I will say that they all fit into this album seamlessly. ‘Next Girl’ is catchy warning tale while ‘Should’ve Known Better’ captures an internal conversation about having missed all the warning signs, likely through wearing blinkers as a way to ignore the issues.
Another highlight on the record is ‘Never Wanted To Be That Girl’ with Ashley McBryde. Hearing two of the genre’s finest artists together is a real treat and the lyrics of the song hit hard. Tinged with regret and honest revelations, McBryde and Pearce share heartbreak, hurt and healing together. It’s pure magic. ‘Your Drinkin’, My Problem’ has a soulful groove as Pearce sings about the knock-on effects of a lover’s over indulgence in alcohol that puts a strain on their relationship. Again, like many of the songs here it’s a clever play on words and the lyrics tell you a lot about what’s happened in Pearce’s personal life without ever feeling brutal.
The final two new songs are ‘All The Whiskey’ and ‘I Want To Mean It This Time’. ‘All The Whiskey’ deals with the idea of trying to drink away your problems in the hope they’ll solve themselves, while ‘I Want To Mean It This Time’ looks forward to a potential marriage in the future as Pearce emphasises the importance of sticking to her vows while unpicking how her first one went so badly wrong. The stark honest of that final song ends things on an emotional note and it feels like the natural continuation of ‘29’, which finds Pearce trying to wrap her head around the whirlwind series of events that saw her life begin to fall apart.
’29: Written In Stone’ is nothing short of a phenomenal record. This is Country music and Pearce proves that it’s still possible to stay true to the genre and do something that feels fresh and new. Since her arrival in 2017 Pearce has quietly been working her way up and with ’29: Written In Stone’, she’s delivered the finest record of her career and one of the finest Country albums of the past 20 years. I expect awards, critical acclaim and a further ascent of her fast-rising star in the coming months, and if she doesn’t sweep the Grammys in 2022 I’m going to be seriously surprised. This album shows that you can take heartbreak and tough life lessons, and turn them into gold.
Track listing: 1. Diamondback 2. What He Didn’t Do 3. Easy Going 4. Dear Miss Loretta (feat Patty Loveless) 5. Next Girl 6. Should’ve Known Better 7. 29 8. Never Wanted To Be That Girl (feat. Ashley McBryde) 9. Your Drinkin’, My Problem 10. Liability 11. Messy 12. Show Me Around 13. Day One 14. All The Whiskey 15. I Want To Mean It This Time Record label: Big Machine Records Release date: 17th September 2021 Buy ’29: Written in Stone’ now