When a song is recognisable as ‘that great song’ from a writers’ round way back in December, it’s a very good sign. The songwriting credit explained why in an instant; two incredible songwriters created Tennessee.
Wright returned from a distinctly underwhelming trip to Nashville coming to terms with the fact that it hadn’t been the life-changing experience she’d been expecting, or rather that everyone else had assumed it would be. Thankfully, it was inspirational in its mundanity. Talking it through with Kaity Rae led them to write this absolute tune together.
The song succeeds in sound and sentiment. Countrified instrumentation and a steady beat frame strong country references: “Tennessee has got me hurting like a ring of fire/makes me think I should just get a 9 to 5.”
The lyrics are unsettling with the implication that it’s not just the singer’s place in the Nashville scene that’s being called into question, but the very idea of a career in music: “baring your soul is just a 9 to 5…maybe you’re just not for me.”
We should be safe on that score if Tennessee is anything to go by. Lisa Wright clearly needs to do all the singing, all the time, forever and now more people will realise it. (Side note: is there a bad Kaity Rae co-write? If yes, let me know so I can tell you why you’re wrong).
Track 2, Never Gonna Fall In Love, brings the twang to an anthem for the dispirited pessimists amongst us: “if I can’t shake these habits then I’ll never feel the magic/I’m never gonna fall in love.” The upbeat tone of the music sidesteps pity, but the repeated refrain leaves little room for hope.
Mind of Mine swiftly sets the scene with a stark statement: “the same old regrets/from something I said in 2006.” It clearly goes beyond a minor pang of remorse. It’s long-standing and, so far, immutable: “as a kid, mother said I had the world on my shoulders/nothing else changed now that I’m older/I am a slave to the fear that I’m under.”
There are stark consequences:”it consumes me all of the time/my body is tired/I’m just wasting away.” There’s even the spectre of alcohol misuse, tempered only by the fact that it won’t help: “things like that never take the blues away.”
Despite the charged lyrics, the surrounding music is measured and soothing. This only heightens the sense of discordance, coupled with a suggestion of hiding in plain sight.
Unlike Never Gonna Fall In Love, Mind of Mine has a ray of hope: “ain’t it such a shame that I’m bound to feel this way/but I’m trying to change/I’m dying to change.” Granted, it’s not overly optimistic or certain, but the refusal to romanticise, minimise or sugarcoat is where the power of this song – and the EP as a whole – lies.
It gives us a serious contender for lyric of the year, summing up the tone of the song and of the times: “I’m a beautiful liar when I tell you I’m doing fine.”
Giving Up The Ghost also lays everything bare. It’s a delicate but gutsy tune centred on a confession: “I’m pulling at the seams of this old dress/admitting my mind’s a fickle a mess…I was oh so close to giving up the ghost.” The vocals are lush and the guitar work is introspective.
The songs may cause pause for thought for those familiar with Wright’s wise-cracking on-stage banter and beaming smile. Indeed, Wright’s candour on this EP is important to challenge stereotypes about anxiety; positivity and pragmatism are possible, but they’re no protection.
Throughout the record, there is no sense of attention-seeking or self pity. The matter of fact lyrics, endearing vocal style and gentle music combine to best effect. Sympathy isn’t sought but empathy should be inevitable.
There is a lot packed into 14 minutes. The EP is cohesive, honest and pure, but that’s just not enough time to drink in that voice and that viewpoint. More like this, please!
Here’s the video for the first single from the EP, Tennessee: