Carly Pearce left little work for the tabloids when she released her latest EP 29 in February. The award-winning artist ended the rumors as she detailed her divorce from country star Michael Ray through the seven-track collection.
âWhen I finished the EP, I wasn’t able to see it all,â Pearce told American Songwriter over the phone. âI wasn’t done crying. I was just at a point of, ‘Okay, I can get away from this. And I feel like it’s half over.
On September 17, the now 30-year-old artist marks an important milestone with a fully realized record, 29: written in stone. The LP develops 29 with eight new songs amortized between the existing seven tracks. Each of the eight intentional new tracks fills in the gaps left in the original EP to tell a fuller story from the perspective of someone who isn’t hardened by their grief.
Instead of, 29: written in stone is the story of a healing soul who is once again full of hope for the future.
âWhen you listen to this now you’re not listening to someone trying to figure out what’s going on and trying to deal with all the feelings of loss,â says Pearce. âYou hear someone who got it and walked over to the other side,â Pearce says.
The credits of the album reflect a deeply personal project. Composed of frequent collaborators and close friends, the co-writers of 29 allowed Pearce to look back at the past and the often painful sides of its history with more vulnerability than it could offer in a room full of strangers. Pearce praises Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, especially for their contribution to taking his lyricism to the next level.
âThey really pushed me to go to a place where I didn’t even think I could ever go in terms of lyrics or sound,â Pearce says. “I had an idea for ’29’âthe year I got married and divorced. And they were like, ‘Great, we put that in a song.’ And I’m like ‘Whoa, right?’ I was just saying and doing things I never thought I would do.
The title song serves as the straightforward centerpiece of the full 15 song collection.
His truth has been characteristic of his art since his beginnings in 2017, All the small things. Beyond the cheeky lyrics, Pearce’s storytelling sets her apart from her country music contemporaries and connects her to a fanatic audience on a deeply personal level, as evidenced by several CMA and ACM awards. As recently as last week, Pearce received two more CMA nominations for female singer of the year and album of the year for 29.
29: written in stone sees an artist recognize the pain of her audience and guide them in the dark by highlighting her lived experience. âI wouldn’t say therapy sessions,â laughs Pearce, explaining what’s going on on his show. âBut I relate to my fans on a human level. They come into my meeting and greet and cry their eyes. And now I’m able to take the stage and maybe be a few steps ahead of them. And let them see that they will get there.
One of those songs that Pearce deemed worth writing is “All The Whiskey In The World”. As the album’s penultimate track, this poignant conclusion points to an inevitable truth of a toxic component of a relationship. She shares: âIt’s such a real story, but also really sad. It’s one thing that when that was happening, when we were writing, I was like, ‘Oh, man, that must be in there.’ But it’s just difficult.
Where “All The Whiskey In The World” accepts what’s broken, “What He Didn’t Do” rewrites the manual on grief.
âAt first 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 that wasn’t good enough for me. Because they meet my needs and my expectations of our relationship, âsays Pearce. She hadn’t heard that prospect of what’s worth focusing on in song form yet. With the help of Ashley Gorley and Emily Shackleton, “What He Didn’t Do” is a nifty way to inventory chord breakers like someone who knows better.
She adds, âI wasn’t strong enough to write the song at the start of my process, but I got to where I was. This is what you should focus on and be strong enough to tell yourself.
This two-phase approach allows listeners to walk through each step of Pearce’s grieving process. Returning to the original EP with her recent songwriting efforts, the artist hopes the songs sound different in the finished frame.
The difference between the almost broken person who wrote the first half of this project and the more resilient writer who completed this collection is best illustrated in the final tracks of each of these versions. 29 ends with the devastating “Day One”. The song, written with Osborne, McAnally, and Matthew Ramsey, is an attempt to convince herself that all will be well if she manages to get 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 closing title of the album marks the 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 better future.
She sings The past is the past / No need to look back / Now I know what I deserve
/ And I will wait for that.
29: written in stone, Pearce says, “shows someone who accepted what happened and was not willing to settle down in their life. And someone who really got the job done and didn’t act like it never happened. You deal with that and close the door.
Listen to Carly Pearce’s new album 29: written in stone, below.
Photo credit: Allister Ann