Carly Pearce’s ’29’ cycle has gone from EP, to album, to awards and now reaches its end with a live album. ’29: Written in Stone – Live from Music City’ is not just any old live album though, it was recorded at Marathon Music Works and features a whole host of special guests that help Pearce flesh out and recreate the biggest moments of her career.
It would be fair to say that Pearce’s ’29’ album has changed her career. We’ve always been a fan of hers right back to the debut album but ’29’ made the whole of the Country community around the world sit up and take notice of this engaging and emotional singer. She managed to turn the heartbreak of her divorce from fellow artist Michael Ray into something relatable and meaningful to Country music fans everywhere and even earned herself a Grammy alongside Ashley McBryde for ‘Never Wanted to be That Girl’ in the process.
There are parallels happening right now to Kelsea Ballerini, who is turning personal trauma into a vehicle to channel creativity and in doing so, relate to a whole host of listeners and fans that were previously an untapped audience. Both Pearce and Ballerini have grown in stature during these turbulent personal seasons and will come out of the other side of them as more rounded, relatable and engaging performers.
’29: Written in Stone – Live From Music City’ is the ending of this particular cycle in Pearce’s career, a cycle that started with the release of “Next Girl’ back in 2021. What better way to bring the curtain down on this phase than with a live album? The recording feels almost like a celebration. The crowd levels are mixed well enough to know they are there and many of the songs contain singalongs or sections of the crowd screaming out particular lyrics that have pertinent meaning whilst Pearce’s vocals are strong and clear throughout.
One minor gripe I have about this album is that the songs are faded in and out at the beginning and the end and you don’t get a lot of Pearce’s interactions with the audience. To truly capture the spirit of a show, which I appreciate had a longer running time than the 80 minutes that the capacity of a CD has space for, the best live albums let things run or are cleverly edited to keep the ‘inbetween’ song banter and talking in, giving the feeling that the songs are running into each other in a way that makes you feel that if you closed your eyes you could be really there – this live album doesn’t do it and the fading in and out is slightly disjointed and a little intrusive if truth be told.
The quality of the music on offer here, however, is top notch. The sound is mixed well and, crucially, the bass is clean and present, something which is also important on live recordings. You get the idea from the off, from lead track ‘Diamondback’ where you can hear the crowd singing along underneath Pearce’s vocals, that this is her crowd and her night. There’s a big screamed moment during the line, ‘I could run him out of this town’ in ‘What He Didn’t Do’ where you can virtually see the smile on Pearce’s face too.
‘Easy Going’ featuring Bluegrass band The Isaacs captures the spirit of live music with a slightly re-imagined opening which culminates in Pearce shouting ‘Nashville, are you ready for some Country music?’ and an extended outro that lets The Isaacs show everyone what they can do. One of the great bonuses of the concept of a live album is that it captures spontaneity and creativity in the live setting. Bands like Counting Crows are famous for the way they change their recorded songs, extending them, changing lyrics and meandering off into areas that couldn’t be captured in the studio – ’29: Written in Stone’ and the Country genre isn’t known for that type of experimentation so there isn’t much of that on offer on this recording but ‘Easy Going’ is a stand-out moment that allows for a little wriggle room in a very tight and precise set.
Other stand out moments come in the shape of Jenee Fleenor’s fiddle playing. She adds both heartbreak and skill to songs like ’29’ and ‘Every Little Thing’, in particular. On the latter song, she helps to move a Pop-leaning ditty into a realm that is altogether more of the ’29’ era. Live, ‘Every Little Thing’ is less produced than it’s studio version and more of a plaintive Country ballad and Fleenor is largely responsible for that.
Another song that seems to grow in the live setting is ‘Show Me Around’. Some nice flourishes on the guitar and mandolin bring a little extra life to this plaintive ballad about the loss of Pearce’s former producer, busbee and you can hear a pin drop about three quarters of the way in when Pearce stops singing for a few seconds before leading the song to it’s climax, which is both respectful and impactful. ‘Next Girl’ has that galloping rhythm that makes it such a good live song and ‘Never Wanted to be That Girl’, which features an appearance from Ashley McBryde, showcases the vocal talents of both singers in fine style.
Two further songs, ‘Day One’ and ‘Truth Be Told’ are worth a mention in terms of their impact. The former, an underrated and underused track from the ’29’ album, has a meaty live sound for what is probably the ‘rockiest’ track on the album. Pearce’s vocal growls and the best guitar solo of the evening are the highlights here whilst ‘Truth be Told’, a song Pearce recorded with Christian artist Matthew West (who also pops up at the Ryman to sing the song with Pearce on this recording) feels very much at home amongst Pearce’s own songs and works great as a duet in this particular setting. The evening is rounded off with the song that really ignited this season of Pearce’s career – ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now’. Lee Brice also appears on vocals alongside Pearce to round off the long guest list of special appearances and the pair do a fine job of helming a song that never appears to age or suffer from repeated listening fatigue!
’29: Written in Stone – Live From Music City’ is a solid release with some neat and interesting flourishes. The revolving door of special guest appearances serve to put a time stamp down on this part of Pearce’s career and cement, in recording history, Pearce’s achievements over the last 2-3 years. You can hear her joy and pride seeping through most of the songs on offer here and you can hear the crowd’s love for this talented artist being sent back onto the stage from the Ryman floor too. The album is a nice time capsule snapshot of an artist who has just produced what I hope is the first of many ‘legacy’ recordings of her career and, as such, is an important historical document. It also begs the question of the elephant in the room: what will she do next and will it be as impactful and engaging as this phase was? Success breeds success, after all, so there’s no reason to think that Pearce’s next album won’t be as good as ’29’ was. I, for one, can’t wait to find out!
Track list: 1. Diamondback 2. What He Didn’t Do 3. Easy Going 4. Dear Miss Loretta 5. Next Girl 6. Shoulda Known Better 7. 29 8. Never Wanted to be That Girl 9. Your Drinkin My Problem 10. Liability 11. Messy 12. Show Me Around 13. Day One 14. All the Whiskey in the World 15. Mean it This Time 16. Truth Be Told 17. Every Little Thing 18. Hide the Wine 19. I Hope You’re Happy Now Record Label: Big Machine Release Date: 24th March Buy ’29: Written in Stone – Live From Music City’ now