Album Review – Natalie Hemby’s ‘Puxico’

Author: Leon Blair

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. 

Natalie Hemby Puxico Album Cover

Can You Give A Brief Overview Of This New Project? – Natalie Hemby’s Puxico is reminiscent of other albums that are framed around small town life such as Southern Family and BJ Barham’s Rockingham from last year. Really, that sentence contradicts itself, mostly because the latter two albums didn’t focus so much on small town life as they did natural human life, telling of lessons learned, hard times, and most importantly holding onto the past.

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”. 


The Verdict?
I’m feeling a decent…
(7/10)

14 thoughts on “Album Review – Natalie Hemby’s ‘Puxico’

  1. The things I agree with you most on are the lack of tempo and the song return just isnt for me. I think return is her attempt to change up the sound a little bit but I think it’s a bit of a miss. Overrall though I thought the album was really great. We disagree a little on things like the grade and overrall quality but I don’t want to say too much since I’m releasing my review of it Monday but awesome review!

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    1. Like I said over at your blog, don’t put too much stock into what I grade certain albums. I obsess way too much over it, and while I think I oversold a lot of albums last year, I will say my grading system is different from yours, Country Perspective, Saving Country Music, and others who use a 10/10 system. I’m a hardass about how I feel about albums haha.

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  2. I really enjoyed this review. (I think this format is kind of fun and enjoyable.) I’ve been listening to Puxico over the last week, and really enjoyed it. I love to see when a quality songwriter releases their own album where they go with it. I hope to see more from her in the future, because I really think she can be a force to reckon with in the future.

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    1. Thanks Trinity! I will say that this format is a lot easier and fun for me as well, so I’m glad people are liking it! I hope to hear more from her as well, she’s a great songwriter and while I know this album was made solely with a special meaning in mind, I hope we get more albums from her.

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  3. Haven’t quite decided whether I’ll cover this or not, but the main thing that hit me is that unlike, say, Brandy Clark and Lori McKenna, none of these songs, with the exception of Cairo, come close to anything she has written for other artists. That sounds really harsh because the overall album is pretty good, but I think she can do and has done a lot better, and for me, it feels like instead of saving her best material, she gave it to other artists and was left with this. Again, that sounds harsh because that makes this album sound like filler, and it’s certainly not, but I think you get the point I’m trying to make. This is kind of why I don’t know if I’ll cover this album because as an album, it’s pretty good, and I think a lot of people will connect with it. But for me, it was a little disappointing. Hmm, maybe I’ll cover “Cairo” because you’re right, that song is excellent.

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    1. Hey, don’t apologize. Let’s face it, for as much as we all like to criticize the mainstream the independent scene also needs some healthy criticism.
      I agree overall with your points. Like I said, I think it works better as an overall album, but as individual songs there are definitely few here that are really “great”, at least in my opinion. If you cover it I look forward to seeing what else you have to say!
      When it comes to picking what I cover, I usually sample whatever comes out during the week and try to handle at least three projects for the week give or take a few. Whether I end up loving, liking, or not liking them is always to be determined, haha.

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  4. Everyone has their own tastes in music. Nobody is wrong, but I might look at you sideways if you sincerely like Sam Hunt ;).
    To me, this is just a snoozefest. It lilts along, pleasant enough, but nothing exciting that makes me go Wow! Nothing offensive or horrible, just kinda, meh. Best way I can put it is good background music for hanging out and talking with friends. Not good listening music for people who really dig music.
    That being said, digging the new review style. Fun and engaging.

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    1. No clue where the first part of the comment came from but rest assured that I don’t like Sam Hunt haha. I agree though, you can love it or hate it, just be honest about where you’re coming from and respect others might feel differently.
      I keep thinking about what you said about Sarah Jarosz’s album last year and how that was a mood record. I think that’s true of this too, and honestly that may be why I found something to enjoy here. I agree though, it needs some more pep in its step, hence why I gave it a 7 (good) instead of an 8 (great).
      Thanks for the comment on the review style. I’m enjoying it too. Much easier to follow a template than it is to just magically make words appear.

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      1. Ha! Definitely the general “you” and not the specific.
        Oh, was that Jarosz record a summer release that had wintertime vibes? I forget.

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  5. My initial impression’s more positive, but that’s okay. There’s not a PC way to say it, but I try to include female artists on my playlist, and it’s hard to find many that are neither the mainsteam radio clique (“Disney princesses”) nor the anti-mainstream clique (“oh, look, I’m from East Nashville and curse three times per sentence to prove how “badass” and “edgy” I am”). When I find someone who just straight up makes music, and shows some maturity,my inclination is to give some bonus points (though I don’t do reviews as such).

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    1. Hey, nothing wrong with being more favorable towards this, I’ve seen a couple different opinions on this, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone NOT at least like this. It’s a definitely a good record.

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