Artist: Erin Enderlin
Album: Whiskeytown Crier
Label: Blue Slate Records
“Whiskeytown. A town just like any other, I suppose, full of people with dreams and heartache. Whether it’s a baby being born or somebody dyin’ there’s one thing we all have in common—sooner or later we end up as a headline in the Whiskeytown Crier.”
The tone of this week’s review is set by what I like to imagine is a weathered cowboy. Songwriter John Scott Sherrill lends his gravely spoken baritone to narrating the concept of Erin Enderlin’s 2017 release, the 13 track album, Whiskeytown Crier.
Our Editor in Chief, Jasmine Rochelle, put together an incredibly intimate piece after catching up with Enderlin back in June. They talked about songwriting, Enderlin’s experience in Nashville, the healing powers that music holds, and even touched on the production of the album. Produced by Jamey Johnson and Jim Brown, their initial vision for the project wasn’t entirely clear. Over the course of three sessions, they had recorded and produced enough material to put together two albums. “It was Jamey Johnson’s idea at first to make that a concept album, and that it should be a kind of auditory newspaper for this small town that had a lot of questionable characters in it,” Enderlin tells Rochelle. While Johnson held the keys for the concept, with his many year’s experiences, Brown brought it to life by taking portions of their warm-ups in the studio and turning them into what now may be one of my favourite parts of the album: the transitions between the songs.
Whiskeytown Crier isn’t just a compilation of extremely well-written songs that I’ll tell you all about later, no, Whiskeytown Crier has quite literally taken on a life of its own. When it’s not the quiet crying of a pedal steel outro leading straight into another intro, footsteps, it’s the chirping of birds, the flicking of a lighter, the crinkling of a newspaper, unintelligible diner chatter, church bells, and bicycles that seem to ride right past you that put you right in the middle of Whiskeytown.
Enderlin has written or co-written every song on the album, save for two. A cover of Gram Parsons’ “Hickory Wind” featuring Ricky Skaggs and Jon Randall is led by a gentle acoustic guitar, a feather-light mandolin, and Enderlin’s delicate twang, and a tender cover of Tammy Wynette’s “Til I Can Make It On My Own” that fits in so seamlessly with the rest of the tracks on the album, had I not known the original, I would have been none the wiser. Enderlin’s own songwriting abilities are incredibly versatile. A father avenging his young teenage daughter’s loss of innocence in the opening track “Caroline,” and some good old-fashioned family drama in “Baby Sister” make the front page news on this week’s edition of the Whiskeytown Crier. With Enderlin being, like us here at Lula, a pretty seasoned Reba McEntire fan, I can’t help but wonder if the little cookie crumb I caught onto in “Baby Sister” was intentional. I mean, it has to be, right? It’s too perfect of a nod from one artist to another not to be. Though it’s not her song, McEntire did record “Please Come to Boston” back in 1995 and the first line of “Baby Sister” mentions it playing on the radio. That coupled with the almost comical take on another song McEntire had covered and recorded in 1991, “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” about a little sister who don’t miss when she aims her gun might be a bit of a stretch on my part, but I just really like the idea. Either way, creative nod to everyone’s favourite redhead or completely unrelated, “Baby Sister” is in its own right a really great song and one of my many favourites off the album.
Enderlin turns prose into song in the most remarkable way, the perfect example being “Ain’t It Just Like a Cowboy.” “There were daisies in a coffee can sittin’ by my bed when I woke up/ ‘I love you’ written on a note beside my favourite cup/ His boots weren’t in the kitchen and his old hat was missin’ from the door/ I sank down in that empty chair, I’ve been here so many times before.” Scrawled across a pad of paper, or typed across a computer screen these words might not seem like much, but accompanied by Enderlin’s tender twang and gentle production, she not only tells the story of a woman whose lover is on the circuit but transforms you into her. It’s you sinking down in that empty chair wondering who he’s been holding in Abilene.
She does it again in “Till It’s Gone.” She puts you in that dark and dusty hotel room with the curtains drawn, the phone off the hook, a bottle of whiskey on the nightstand, and a cigarette smoked down to the filter in the ashtray. You’re gonna want to hold on tight for this one. It’ll cut straight down to the bone. We’ve all been here. We’ve all felt this heartache. The transition into “The Coldest in Town” places you in a roadside diner with people chattering, cutlery clattering, and a waitress refilling your coffee. I love that about the album, for thirty seconds you forget that it’s not a movie you’re watching. Randy Houser’s smooth voice welcomes you in a swirl of steel for this beautiful, yet melancholy duet.
Studio chatter pulls you into the silky smooth “Whole Nother Bottle of Wine,” a song I like to best describe as Emmylou Harris’ “Two More Bottles of Wine” sophisticated, sexy, more put together big sister. Church bells, birds, an organ playing Amazing Grace, and an unintelligible sermon lead you from the female power anthem of the album “Jesse Joe’s Cigarettes” into the lone obituary in the Whiskeytown Crier like a funeral procession. “His Memory Walks on Water” paints the picture of the youngest daughter of a troubled man remembering, and clinging to the good she saw in him so she “could have a father who’s gentle, kind, and good.” You’re going to want to have some tissues nearby for both “Broken” and “His Memory Walks on Water.” Seriously. I’m not kiddin’ around.
Cicadas and the flicking of a lighter fade the very last track out to silence, leaving you completely satisfied with the journey Enderlin has taken you on. Each time I’ve listened to the album as a whole I have to sit back and take a moment. Enderline, Johnson, and Brown have created something entirely different from anything out there right now. Enderlin’s songs, Johnson’s vision, and Brown’s ability to tie it all together had made it the most authentically country album on the market. You’re not going to want to miss out on this one.