Album Review

Summer Dean - The Biggest Life

Every now and again, an artist comes along and reminds us that old-fashioned production techniques can never substitute for heart and soul. Texan-born singer/songwriter Summer Dean is the latest to underscore the crucial distinction between style and substance.

Holler Country Music
June 12, 2023 12:28 pm GMT

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Summer Dean - The Biggest Life

Label: The Next Waltz

Release Date: June 16, 2023

Producers: Bruce Robison

Tracklisting:

1. Big Ol' Truck

2. She Ain't Me

3. Might Be Getting Over You

4. The Biggest Life Worth Living Is The Small

5. Move Along Devil

6. Can't Hide The Heartache From Her face

7. I'll Forget Again Tomorrow

8. Baling Wire

9. The Sun's Gonna Rise Again

10. She's In His Arms But I'm In The Palm Of His Hand

11. Other Women

12. Clean Up Your Act If You Wanna Talk Dirty To Me

13. Lonely Girl's Lament

Every now and again, an artist comes along and reminds us that old-fashioned production techniques can never substitute for heart and soul. Texan-born singer/songwriter Summer Dean is the latest to underscore the crucial distinction between style and substance.

Yes, her sophomore full-length The Biggest Life was recorded entirely in analog (“with no digital shenanigans” in the words of label The Next Waltz). There are moments — such as the otherworldly pedal steel solo on ‘She Ain’t Me’ — when you could close your eyes and imagine hearing Dean singing over the airwaves in, say, the 1950s.

Listeners who enjoy combing through thrift shops in search of treasures from country’s golden age will find plenty to sink their teeth into here. Clearly, producer (and Next Waltz founder) Bruce Robison knows how to dial-in the warmth and sparkle of a bygone era. That said, The Biggest Life benefits from Robison opting not to go overboard with retro stylings.

Moreover, Dean’s artistic presence is far too strong to reduce her approach to the musical equivalent of an Instagram filter. With The Biggest Life, in fact, Dean shows that her music would be convincing regardless of the presentation it comes wrapped in.

Never has an item as mundane as bailing wire, for example, made for such worthy subject matter as it does on ‘Bailing Wire.’ Dean sings lines like “It’ll bind some hay and help form some clay and make a new gate-latch for your chicken pen” with a winking tone, but the words crackle with sincerity, nonetheless.

A cattle rancher and one-time schoolteacher who effectively gave up on the idea of having a relationship in order to pursue music, Dean writes and sings with a winning combination of vulnerability, frankness and charm. With more than half the album devoted to relationship themes, the songs convey a lived-in quality that makes them believable.

In spots, such as the piano ballad ‘Can’t Hide the Heartache from Her Face,’ Dean certainly skirts the edge of obvious in the way she channels the likes of Connie Smith, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and Leona Williams. Ultimately, though, Dean and Robison (along with their cast of studio musicians) stay anchored in the present even as they draw on the past

It speaks volumes that this music moves at a snail’s pace without ever losing its vitality or sense of momentum. The Biggest Life captures Summer Dean at a moment where her career is ripe with both.

9/10

Summer Dean's 2023 album, The Biggest Life, is out on June 16th on The Next Waltz

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