Review: Emily Nenni is Just a Honky-Tonk Girl

Emily Nenni
On the Ranch
(Normaltown/New West)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

I’m a honky-tonk girl who’s just getting started, says Nashville by way of California singer/songwriter Emily Nenni as the lead-up to her second full-length release. Judging from the quality of these nine expertly crafted originals (along with one Abba cover) and a voice that’s fresh and frisky, she has devoted plenty of work to get here.

It’s Nenni’s voice that first jumps out.

Sweet, salty, and informed by a Dolly Parton-styled trill, the lively, vibrating opener “Can Chaser,” a tribute to women wranglers from the Colorado rodeo ranch where these songs were written (also alluded to in the disc’s title), lays down the template.  I can’t stand still, she warbles as a reverbed guitar picks out a solo on “Useless,” a song that speaks to a work ethic that results in this energized set.

But don’t let that innocent tone fool you. She’s taking no crap from a good-for-nothing ex who walked out but now wants to return on “Leavin’” singing, I haven’t missed you/you haven’t missed me and I’m leavin.’ Nenni also dismisses a one-night-stand, taking off the next day “In the Mornin’” stating When the sun comes up I’m hittin’ the road on an acoustic upbeat melody that conveys her feisty freedom. And she’s not about to lay around as the world is fixin’ to fall apart (a reference to COVID times) either. If you see it’s wrong, then you say it’s wrong she demands in “Get On With It” as pedal steel slides and shimmies a solo that’s alternately playful and ominous.

Only ABBA fans will recognize their “Does Your Mother Know” with Nenni’s honky-tonk makeover. Just the touch of a disco beat transforms the pop song into a credible country twanger.

Credit goes to co-writer/producers Mike Eli and Alex Lyon for providing the clean, unembellished sound and a solid band perfect for Nenni’s voice with its intermittently sassy and/or sweet approach.

There’s little new here, but Nenni’s spirited girl-next-door charm, some crackling tunes along with playing that’s clean and in the pocket provides her with a clear path forward in a genre where less is almost always more.    

Photograph by Alysse Gafkjen / New West Records


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