Terrestrial radio, satellite radio, Spotify playlists, YouTube, TikTok, American Idol, The Voice, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, etc., etc. With all the ways music is thrown at us these days, it’s harder than ever to stand out.
Yet, even amidst all of this, Sean Della Croce is able to knock you off your feet in about five seconds flat.
The word songbird isn’t used very often and rightfully so, but there truly is no other description befitting of Sean Della Croce. With mesmerizing vocals and songwriting skills that fly in the circles of the elite, Della Croce is a gem the world needs to know.
A native of Nashville, Della Croce grew up in a house not only filled with music but with musicians as family—her stepdad, the late Pete Huttlinger, the brilliantly talented well-known guitarist known for his fingerstyle of playing. With a musical education not just limited to the professionals at home, in 2010 she was recruited into the elite Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (a.k.a. the Paul McCartney School). Straddling the gap between music and another one of her passions, Della Croce returned stateside to earn her degree in Philosophy.
As evidenced by her debut album, Illuminations, both her music and academia training has served her well. Take for instance the song “Break in the Rain,” a song about home and what it means to feel lost and untethered.
“I want people to feel held when they listen to this song,” Della Croce tells American Songwriter. “In recognizing that, I hope people find a home in the lyrics. This is a song for someone who has had their ass kicked. I’ve been waiting too long for a break in the rain gives way to give me a river and wash me away. It’s a song of surrender. I mean this purely as a metaphor, there is always a reason to keep moving forward, but I also think it’s okay to be fed up. In allowing for that, I think the song makes space for some unlikely hope.
“I love the image of the rocking chair falling off the porch, and I always enjoy singing the line, Hoping I might fall down into the grass and muddy ground and be someplace I’ve never seen before. Sometimes a faceplant is the change in perspective we need.”
Adding to the brilliance of the song, “Break in the Rain” features the incomparable Vince Gill handling lead guitar duties.
“When I went to record the song, I knew that I wanted to ask Vince Gill to perform on it. He was generous enough to lend his talents to the lead guitar, and I think it adds immensely to spirit of the song,” adds Della Croce. “Greg Leisz also performs on the tune, he plays a beautiful Weissenborn part that adds a haunting, tropical quality to the song that is priceless.”
If we were living in the days of vinyl, Illuminations would be the kind of album you drop the needle on and just let it roll. With twelve exquisitely written and impeccably sequenced songs (a lost art in the music world), Della Croce is hard to pigeonhole into any one genre. The term Americana casts too wide a net, while singer/songwriter seems too bland. The best way to describe her songwriting is smart and story lined, not unlike the Gretchen Peters or Lori McKenna’s of the world, while her vocals, light and airy, are reminiscent of an even softer Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls fame.
All things being equal, if one had to be placed in front of the other, it’s Della Croce’s songwriting that stands atop the gold medal stand. Perhaps that comes from her training or perhaps it comes from her other creative outlet as Della Croce is the co-founder and editor of a Broadside, a quarterly journal that explores the lived experiences of women through poetry and prose.
Then again, it could just be that she knows when to pursue something and when to just let it lie.
“I write my best when I have no choice. I have a trove of half-written songs that will probably never see the light of day, but the songs that arrive all at once, fully formed, are always the strongest and most true. My best songwriting doesn’t strive for anything and it doesn’t grasp, it simply opens the door. The moment I try to hold a song or control it, it is destroyed and transformed into a shitty jingle.”