Carly Pearce left little work for tabloids when she dropped her latest EP 29 in February. The award-winning artist laid rumors to rest as she detailed her divorce with fellow country star Michael Ray across the seven-track collection.
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“When I finished the EP, I wasn’t in a place of seeing the whole thing though,” Pearce tells American Songwriter over the phone. “I wasn’t done grieving. I was just at a moment of, ‘Okay, I can step away from this. And I feel like this is half-finished.’”
On September 17, the now 30-year-old artist marks a milestone with a fully realized record, 29: Written In Stone. The LP expands upon 29 with eight new songs cushioned between the seven existing tracks. Each of the eight new, intentional tracks fill the gaps left in the original EP to tell a more complete story from the perspective of someone who is not hardened by her heartbreak.
Instead, 29: Written In Stone is the story of a healing soul who is once-again hopeful for the future.
“When you listen to this, now, you’re listening to not somebody who’s trying to figure out what is happening and trying to manage all of the feelings of loss,” says Pearce. “You’re hearing someone who saw it through and got on the other side of it,” says Pearce.
The album credits reflect a deeply personal project. Comprised of frequent collaborators and close friends, the co-writers on 29 allowed Pearce to lean into the past, and often painful sides of her story with more vulnerability than she might offer in a room full of strangers. Pearce praises Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, specifically for their hand in bringing her lyricism to the next level.
“They really pushed me to go into a place where I didn’t even think lyrically or sonically I would ever be able to go,” says Pearce. “I had an idea for ‘29’—the year I got married and divorced. And they were like, ‘Great, we’re putting that in a song.’ And I’m like, ‘Whoa, are we?’ I was just saying and doing things I never thought I would.”
The title track serves as a candid centerpiece of the full 15-song collection.
Her truthtelling has been characteristic of her artistry since her 2017 debut, Every Little Thing. Beyond brazen lyrics, Pearce’s storytelling set her apart from her contemporaries in country music and connects her with a fanatic audience on a deeply-person level—as evidenced by several CMA and ACM awards. Just last week, Pearce received two more CMA nominations for Female Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year for 29.
29: Written In Stone sees an artist acknowledging her audience’s hurt, and guiding them through the dark by shedding light on her lived experience. “I wouldn’t say therapy sessions,” Pearce laughs as she articulates what goes on at her show. “But I am relating to my fans on a human level. They come into my meet and greets and cry their eyes out. And now I’m able to stand on the stage and maybe be a few steps ahead of them. And let them see that they’ll see it through.”
One of those songs Pearce deemed worth the pain of writing is “All The Whiskey In The World.” As the second-to-last track on the album, this poignant conclusion points to an unavoidable truth of a toxic component of a relationship. She shares, “It’s such a real, but also really sad story. That’s one that when it was happening, when we were writing, I was like, ‘Oh, man, this has to be in there.’ But it’s just hard.”
Where “All The Whiskey In The World” accepts what’s broken, “What He Didn’t Do” re-writes the handbook on heartbreak.
“In the beginning, it’s so easy to focus on ‘Well, they did this and they did this and that.’ And as you process you go,’ Oh, wait, maybe this wasn’t actually good enough for me. Because they meet my needs and my expectations of our relationship,’” says Pearce. She had not yet heard that perspective of what’s worth focusing on in song form. With the helping hand of Ashley Gorley and Emily Shackleton, “What He Didn’t Do” is a clever means of inventorying deal-breakers as someone who knows better.
She adds, “I wasn’t strong enough to write the song in the beginning of my process, but I got to a place where I was. It’s what you actually should focus on and be strong enough to say to yourself.”
This two-phase approach allows listeners to walk through each stage of Pearce’s grieving process. Returning to the original EP with her recent songwriting efforts, the artist hopes the songs sound different within the completed framework.
The difference between the nearly-broken person who penned the first half of this project and the more resilient writer who finished this collection is best exhibited in the final tracks from each of these releases. 29 leaves off with the devasting “Day One.” The song—penned with Osborne, McAnally, and Matthew Ramsey—is an attempt to convince herself all will be okay if she can make it through the first day of a changed world.
“Mean It This Time” is more than a light at the end of the tunnel. This triumphant album-closing track signals victory over the darkness of those early days. Co-written with Jordan Terry Minton, Jordan Reynolds, and Shackelton, the hopeful anthem cements Pearce in the certainty of a brighter future.
She sings The past is the past / No use looking back / Now I know what I deserve
/ And I’ll wait for that.
29: Written In Stone, Pearce says, “shows somebody that accepted what happened and wasn’t willing to settle in her life. And someone who really did the work and didn’t act like it never happened. You process that and shut the door.”
Listen to Carly Pearce’s new LP 29: Written In Stone, below.
Photo Credit: Allister Ann