By Holly Smith
The Heartbreak smartly positions itself to pull her out of the smoky bar, singer-songwriter territory and into a country artist building a headlining set.
1. Fine County Line
2. Jealous of Jane
3. Fly On The Wall (with Jake Worthington)
4. Stuck In My Ways
5. Cowboys on Music Row (With Carter Faith)
6. The Table
If you take pride in knowing that you’d marked an artist for greatness before they’d even released a full spin of an album, start shouting about Lauren Watkins now.
Only eight months after delivering her first EP, alongside several performances on label mate Morgan Wallen’s tour, she’s released a six-song continuation in The Heartbreak, affirming the buzz that surrounds her.
Introducing: Lauren Watkins oozed clever songwriting; it possessed songs that were built on lyrical centrepieces that were both the cake and the cherry. The Heartbreak smartly positions itself to pull her out of that smoky bar, singer-songwriter territory and into a country artist building a headlining set.
While ...The Heartbreak had to become less of a head-scratcher than its predecessor to become more of a headbanger, when it offers jewels it doesn’t hold back.
The low purr in Watkins’ voice remains as addictive as ever, showcased in particular on 'The Table', a ballad about the rise and regression of a relationship. It has the restraint to leave itself hanging on a final line unspoken but still heard, the way things so often are in romances that have simply run out of track. 'Fly on the Wall' is similarly beautiful, the husk of Watkins’ voice making its strangely euphoric key change and vocal layering gel with its own melancholy.
With talk of six-packs, Levi's jeans and Chevrolets, 'Stuck In My Ways' seems particularly off-piste for Watkins, but to the Nashville machine dues must be paid. The better you pay them with one hand, as Watkins also does with the radio-friendly production on 'Stuck' and 'Fine County Line', the more effective it is when you use the other hand to bat, or even bash, the establishment away.
The Carter Faith-featuring duet 'Cowboys on Music Row' laments that they don’t make country boys like they used to, on a track that shows why the Kacey Musgraves comparisons are so inevitable yet deserved. In country music, there's a lot of songs that take a more general aim at the recession of traditional country music, but rarely any that'll call out structures and institutions as specific as Music Row (see Musgraves’ own not so subtle big machine references on 'Good Ol Boys Club').
On a record that veers casually, the foot tapping 'Jealous of Jane' is perhaps, in its own understated way, the distillation of it all; a title that demands a listen, a self-reflective and probing viewpoint that flits between the rearview and the windscreen and the laid back confidence of a star in the making.
8.5 / 10
Lauren Watkins' new project, Introducing: The Heartbreak, is out now via Big Loud Records.
For more Lauren Watkins, see below: