Who? – Natalie Hemby, from Nashville Tennessee
Album Release Date/Producer? – January 13th, 2017 / Mike Wrucke
Opinion On The Artist’s Work Overall? – Puxico is Natalie’s debut album, so I can’t say for sure until I get to the review. She’s a great songwriter though. Speaking of…
Where Might Other People Know This Artist From? – Natalie Hemby has written songs for artists such as Lee Ann Womack, Miranda Lambert, Eli Young Band, Little Big Town, Sunny Sweeney, and Kacey Musgraves among others.
Is There Any Sort Of Event Surrounding The Making Of This Album? – Well, apparently in 2011 Natalie Hemby began work on a documentary about Puxico, Missouri. The actual town is apparently where she spent her summers as a kid, so this is supposedly a tribute to that from what I could gather.
What Are The High Points / Praiseworthy Elements Of The Project? – To continue our talk of themes, I would say that the theme of holding onto the past is one that permeates the majority of Puxico, and it’s not something that hits you right away upon the first couple listens. I would say that this overall narrative arc is expressed better through the themes of the songs here rather than the stories within too. It starts off with songs such as the Johnny Cash inspired “Time Honored Tradition” telling us to “sit and listen to the legendary days”, setting the scene for an album that’s almost nostalgic in nature. Considering this album is about Natalie’s childhood and the summers she spent in Puxico, it’s a fitting scope for the album.
Those themes continue on in tracks such as “Grand Restoration” with its talk of the importance of remembering one’s history, and that comes more into play on the album highlight “Cairo, IL” (easily a contender for one of my favorite songs of the year thus far), where she drives by the ghost town of Cairo only to be saddened that such a vibrant city could turn into a forgotten ghost town. The soft acoustics and overall very atmospheric tone really helps give an intimacy to this track. It’s quite simply excellent.
Here’s the thing though, as much as we should hold onto our heritage, our roots from which we came from, there are things we will inevitably forget as we get older. That sentiment is displayed on “I’ll Remember How You Loved Me” as the narrator states some things she’ll forget from her childhood such as events that occurred during that time as well as some people who once played an important role in her life. However, there are certain things that we can’t forget, and that we still hold on to remind us of who we are. For the narrator, it’s quite simply a lover that she’ll remember. The softer drums on this track really help to establish an intimate mood such as “Cairo IL” did.
One song in particular that doesn’t seem to fit the narrative arc of the album that I would still consider a highlight is “Ferris Wheel”. It’s sort of got a 90’s country feel to it and tells how the narrator compares life to a ferris wheel. We want to be at the top to feel that rush, but that’s not how it works. We have our ups and downs, and like a ferris wheel (or rather like life), we can’t experience that craziness simply by watching, we have to be engaged with our lives (or the ferris wheel) to really experience the crazy ride. After the year we’ve had I know I can certainly relate to it.
To drift away from the thematical content for a second, I will say that the production and instrumentation is very crisp and gorgeous here. It’s got the kind of weathered feel you’d expect from a Dave Cobb record, only it’s handled by Mike Wrucke instead who did a fantastic job. Greg Leisz also does a fantastic job as a steel guitar player, and if I had to compare the overall mood of this album I would compare it to John Prine’s latest album or BJ Barham’s Rockingham.
What I can appreciate about this album is that it’s different from the other “small town” albums I mentioned before, trading in those darker stories or tones in favor of an album that quite simply celebrates life. It’s an album that travels back to the past but never stays stuck there, fostering the important theme of time and how we sometimes let it get away and how we sometimes need to go back to our roots to find ourselves again.
What Are The Low Points / Nitpicks Of The Project? – I won’t quite I say I love this album. For as much as I do enjoy the grand scope this album is going for, and for much as I would say we get that scope from hearing the themes of the songs, I won’t say we always get it within the actual details of the songs. “I’ll Remember How You Loved Me” is the turning point on the album where we see how we don’t always need to travel back in time to remember certain events (or people since they’ve never left our memories to begin with), yet we never really explore why this lover is so important to her life. It lists numerous examples of things she’ll forget in order to build up to the hook, and honestly a lack of detail is failing to make it connect with me.
It’s the same problems that bog down “This Town Still Talks About You” for me. We get the overall picture that this guy was the hometown hero back in his day, but we never really get a sense of why or any real point to the story. Maybe he’s the guy from “I’ll Remember How You Loved Me”, but even still, that kind of emotion would have helped to combine the two decent songs into one excellent song. I’ll also add that some of the overall themes in the front half of the album can start to run together after awhile, as can the arrangements. I also can’t say that I was wild about the vocal production on “Return”, it just sounded too cluttered to really stick with me personally. There’s also the lack of a real variety in tempo here as well, as the lack of any real up-tempo track or lighter moment in general makes this album seem to drag on after awhile despite it only being nine songs.
Closing Thoughts? – Overall, I don’t want to take away the fact that this is a really good album, because it is. I do enjoy the grand message it’s trying to deliver overall here. I also like how Natalie just went ahead and made the album for herself and focused on crafting it around life events rather than just making an album for the sake of making one. I don’t quite love it – again it kind blends together after awhile, but this is really solid, and if Natalie chooses to record more albums then I’ll surely be listening.
Who Might Enjoy This Album – If you’re into softer, acoustic tinged country, you’d enjoy this. I’d also recommend it to fans of Lori McKenna, Miranda Lambert, and Jason Eady.
Any Albums That This Reminds You Of? – For lyrical content, I’d say it reminds me of BJ Barham’s Rockingham and Dave Cobb’s Southern Family in a way (as I’ve noted). I’d also that production wise and lyrically I’m hearing a lot of a Lori McKenna influence as well.
The Best Song(s)? – Definitely “Cairo, IL” as well as “Time Honored Tradition” and “Ferris Wheel”.
The Worst (or Weakest) Song(s)? – I’d probably say “Return”.
I’m feeling a decent…