Carly Pearce may be relatively young in her musical career, but she’s already accumulated a solid catalog of nuanced country songs. Raised in Kentucky and laser-focused on one day playing the Grand Ole Opry since childhood, her country roots run deep.
No matter how high her star rises, she still impresses as an everywoman for our times - she just happens to have a wide-ranging, high-wattage voice equal to the diversity of emotion she’s willing to reveal.
Her best songs transform shame and regret into wisdom and self-acceptance; in the process of sharing her own stumbles along her own life’s path, she lifts herself and her listeners back up to the task of doing better next time.
Holler looks back at some of her best songs to date.
The infectious opener to her sophomore effort, ‘Closer to You’ charms with its breezy enthusiasm about a new relationship. Poppy and danceable, a dobro solo keeps it in the country, while the sheer optimism contrasts to her catalogue of songs on the thornier aspects of love.
Addressing substance abuse, this standout from Pearce’s debut describes the pain of loving someone with a drinking problem, elevating it above the standard drinking song and keeping us hooked with its catchy chorus.
The second single from 2017’s Every Little Thing is a fresh take on the perils (and potential pleasures) of drunk dialing. It also gives Pearce an opportunity to pay homage to her bluegrass roots while revealing her sassy, sexy side.
The scathing lead-off track on 29: Written in Stone - the album that would help Pearce win the 2021 CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Award – ‘Diamondback’ finds the singer taking her power back (while keeping that diamond).
The song is at once defiant, determined, cutting and canny, while a brisk tempo underlines Pearce’s intent to move on.
From 29, ‘Next Girl’ finds Pearce playing the role of the wiser, more experienced big sister, warning listeners off the bad boys, or at least trying to. Been there, done that, and “just tryna’ help the next girl”, Pearce performs the neat trick of transmuting those bitter feelings into service.
What elevates this song from good to great is the spare and incisive opening verse: “I am my mother's daughter / I watched her with my father / I saw it all, the good and bad / Should've known better than that.” Instantly relatable, it cuts to the quick of how hard it can be to transcend one’s familial patterns.
“And everybody says you're only 29 / But I feel like I'm running out of time”, Pearce sings, pitting the expectations of age against the harsh reality of failures along the road to maturity.
She’s fearless about revealing her own shortcomings and shattered dreams, baring her soul and turning her losses into classic country gold.
It was no secret that 29: Written in Stone was Pearce’s post-divorce album, and fans hoping for a reveal of the who/what/whys of her split from Michael Ray found plenty to read between the lines in ‘What He Didn’t Do’.
Only Pearce takes the high road and instead of delivering the dirt, penned a manifesto for the love she and everyone deserves: “Treat me right, put me first, be a man of his word / Stay home 'cause he wanted to / Always fight for my love, hold on tight like it's something / That he couldn't stand to lose”.
If ‘Should’ve Known Better’ described the lessons daughters learn from mothers, ‘Dear Miss Loretta’ acknowledges the wisdom conveyed by the first women in country music, namely Loretta Lynn, whose tradition of singing the unvarnished truth with conviction Pearce proudly carries forward (Pearce had the temerity to debut the waltz at the Grand Ole Opry).
“A lifetime of pain was three minutes long / And you weren't ashamed / When the world sang along” takes on even more depth as Pearce is joined by another trailblazing country artist, Patty Loveless, on the recording.
While she didn’t pen this quirky gem, ‘Dashboard Jesus’ could easily serve as Pearce’s personal anthem.
“Everybody says she's dreamin' / Call her crazy for believin'” she sings on the soaring chorus with complete authenticity, echoing the years she stayed true to her dreams in the face of multiple rejections before she achieved mainstream success.
It’s no wonder she made a point of recording it once she broke through.
A tribute to her mentor and producer busbee, who died tragically of brain cancer in 2019, Pearce again strikes the right balance between deep sorrow and abiding faith on ‘Show Me Around.’ Bittersweetly imagining a reunion in the afterlife, the song shimmers with sadness and love.
‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ is a near-perfect country ballad, evoking the rights of passage everyone goes through on the way to making a life, from leaving home for the first time to watching others live your dream, to struggling to make a place for oneself while living on a prayer. It checks all the right boxes, rendering the highly personal, universal.
Pearce’s voice drips with vulnerability and knowing on her breakout track. Detail-rich and heart-piercing, anybody with a pulse who heard the song can relate to “the high, the hurt, the shine, the sting” that her voice conveys so very well.
This winning duet with Lee Brice from Pearce’s self-titled sophomore effort - the song took home CMA 2020 Song of the Year honors -finds two exes loving one another despite their tears and diverging paths.
Pearce and Brice wring out every ounce of guilt, regret and heartbreak with soaring vocals and convincing emotional weight.
Pearce raised her already high bar for duets by teaming up with Ashley McBryde to tell the two sides to an oh-so- familiar cheating story. Only this time, the women are equal in their pain and regret, which coupled with Pearce’s and McBryde’s sensitive vocals, makes it that much more affecting.
Subscribe and listen to Holler's The Best Carly Pearce Songs playlist below now: