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Carly Pearce’s first album arrives Friday, but this country singer has already triumphed: Lead single “Every Little Thing” sits at No. 9 on the latest Country Airplay chart, making Pearce one of only four women to crack the top ten on the country airwaves in the entirety of 2017. Apparently systemic opposition to female country singers is as strong as ever. Planning accordingly, Pearce stacked her energizing, well-made new album, also titled Every Little Thing, with potential hits, and the record is easily the most exciting debut in country this year.
This has been a long time coming for Pearce, who has a big-screen-ready story of musical perseverance. She dropped out of high school to work as a singer at Dollywood, the Dolly Parton-themed park in Tennessee, where she fine-tuned her singing with thirty shows a week. Then she made the inevitable — for an aspiring country singer, at least — move to Nashville and ran headlong into a wall of music industry indifference. In interviews, she has said that every major label decided against signing her, some more than once. Several labels also passed on “Every Little Thing,” the marooned-on-breakup-island ballad which was heard by just under 30 million radio listeners last week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Pearce put out the track independently before it was scooped up by Big Machine, the same label that once signed a young Taylor Swift.
“Every Little Thing” stands out at radio, and not only because it’s sung by a woman: It’s bleak and totally devastated, all the more so when compared with the songs near it on the airplay chart — “More Girls Like You,” a rousing number from Kip Moore, or “Fix A Drink,” a sozzled ode to escapism from Chris Janson. In contrast, the muted, monochrome drum beat in “Every Little Thing” stinks of defeat.
But the single is really a bait and switch; even though one out of three songs on Every Little Thing is a ballad, those aren’t the songs that linger. Instead, Pearce’s definitive statements are sub-three-minute blasts. Again and again, a pretty line on banjo or mandolin serves as cover for a close-to-perfect pop song. These high riffs ornament “Everybody Gonna Talk,” “Doin’ It Right,” “Color” and “Careless;” when they’re not present, the distance between Los Angeles writing rooms and Music Row dissolves — “Feel Somethin’” could be a highlight from a P!nk album.
Every Little Thing is produced by busbee — who has quietly become a go-to guy in country in the last two years (Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum) and the one labels turn to when they sign a young female singer (Maren Morris, Lauren Alaina) — who is just one of the important Music Row name you’ll find in Every Little Thing‘s credits. But it’s the lesser-known writers who contribute to the album’s strongest cuts. Emily Shackleton (Sara Evans, Cassadee Pope) helped with “Careless,” a fizzy dismissal of a callous ex that revolves, in grand country tradition, around the small difference between “careless” and “care less.”
Laura Veltz (Eli Young Band, Chris Young) contributed to “Color,” which rises to the country-pop heights of Shania Twain circa 1997. And Allison Veltz (Laura’s sister) has a credit on “Doin’ It Right,” a shrewd reverse-psychology number where Pearce ticks off her partner’s less-than-desirable qualities. Another relatively unknown writer making a big impact, of course, is Pearce herself. It’s no small feat that she is credited on more than half the songs here, proving she can roll with the best songsmiths in country: Natalie Hemby, Hillary Lindsey, Shane McAnally, Luke Laird, Barry Dean and Ashley Gorley are among those who helped with the writing.
All the compositional verve is matched and then elevated, by busbee’s effervescent production, which merges pop brilliance and impressive attention to detail. In “Doin’ It Right,” after Pearce sings, “I ain’t your old guitar that you leave out in the back of your car that you never play,” a charged electric riff rises to answer her with amusing indignation. The backing vocals keep shifting textures here, too, in the manner of old Fleetwood Mac arrangements. This effect is even more pronounced in “Color,” where a male singer shadows Pearce like a lost Garfunkel while “ooh-whoa’s” skipping through the background are voiced by a woman. The ingredients vary; the results remain rich.
Every Little Thing is a formidable collection of songs, but it’s also notable for another reason — following Kelsea Ballerini’s The First Time in 2015 and Maren Morris’ Hero in 2016, this marks the third straight year that a female artist’s debut album has been the most important record in country music. If only more singers were allowed to join them.
Every Little Thing is out 10/13 via Big Machine Records. Get it here.