Carly Pearce | Carly Pearce | (Big Machine)
3 out of 5
“22, didn’t have a clue who I was, who I could trust and who were my real friends,” Carly Pearce takes a moment to breathe and collect herself. A breakout debut single – 2017’s “Every Little Thing,” a platinum-certified chart-topper – and several award nominations under her belt, the country star bears the pressure of the spotlight with remarkable poise. With “It Won’t Always Be Like This,” an emotive scorcher off her self-titled sophomore record, Pearce reassesses her early 20s, a flood of change, and what life has become these days. “No, the heart won’t ache forever / No matter how hard it gets,” she consoles her younger self.
“It Won’t Always Be Like This” accentuates a journey of great personal and professional maturity. Carly Pearce, out this Friday (February 14), entrenches in deep yearning, a magnetic roster of chewy radio gum (“Closer to You,” “Heart’s Going Out of Its Mind”) and silky R&B-hued reveries (“Lightning in a Bottle,” “Greener Grass”). Pearce unsheathes her trusty vocal signatures, a unique timbre that cuts through the static, with some of her most enthralling work.
“Blame it on me / I’m an actor / I’m a fake,” she collapses into a pile of rubble. “Halfway Home” is a true soul-crusher, a diamond-cutter in which she accepts the brunt of a relationship’s demise. “I was selfish / I was scared / I put it off / And I know it isn’t fair,” she confronts immaturity with wise transparency. Co-written with Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz, her words swing as a pendulum does, and when the dust settles, she learns to finally let it all go.
Pearce exercises robust emotional heft and carves out new avenues for herself. Her eye is squarely, and unapologetically, aimed for radio play, but that doesn’t mean she can’t rework the pop-country template to her advantage. 13 songs vault from the sun-bleached free-wheeler “Dashboard Jesus” to the slinky and seductive “Call Me,” and every step of the way, she makes the moments count. Then, duets like “I Hope You’re Happy Now” (with Lee Brice) and the Michael Ray-starring “Finish Your Sentence” tug on the ‘90s country lovers’ heartstrings.
“Love Has No Heart” sifts through heartbreak’s wreckage (“It’s starts with the glitter, the shine, and the shimmer / The flash of the picture / Then after that, the fade of the glamour / The drop of the hammer / The pieces that shatter / The aftermath,” she aches), and it takes such catharsis to see the light peeking through the darkness. On “Woman Down,” she emerges out of ruin like a phoenix spreading its flame-tinged wings. “She can’t breathe / But she ain’t dying,” she swears.
Pearce’s eponymous offering – produced by the late busbee – doesn’t break new ground or shatter conventions, but it illustrates an artist learning, growing, and embracing the good, the bad, and ugly. Carly Pearce is a focused body of work, more fine-tuned than her debut, and Pearce has never sounded so good and self-assured.
Photo Credit: John Shearer