Music, in its essence, is melodic storytelling, and country has long been one of its strongest pillars and most notable calling cards. Erin Enderlin, with her newly released Whiskeytown Crier, presents what may be one of the strongest examples in recent years, rivaling poster children like Jason Isbell and Brandy Clark in her ability to capture moments with empathy, grit, honesty, and grace.
“We didn’t do a lot of pre-production,” Enderlin says of the recording process, which took place incredibly quickly several years ago. “They were just like, bring all of the songs you love in the studio and we’ll see what feels right. So that’s what we did, we ended up recording three different days, recorded two albums actually.” Whiskeytown Crier, produced by Jamey Johnson, is the result of that work, which Enderlin pared down for the final product. The songs are a collection of some of country’s most raw, honest, and thoughtful songs in recent memory, from the dark “Caroline” to the jaded and wise “The Blues Are Alive & Well.”
“Jamey was a really great part of this process in terms of he really was demanding of me [to] do exactly what you want, just do what you love, just do what you feel,” Enderlin says.
Enderlin grew up in Arkansas and started writing songs in 4th grade. You already know her work as a songwriter: “Monday Morning Church” for Alan Jackson, “Last Call” for Lee Ann Womack, “You Don’t Know Jack” for Luke Bryan. “It was like somebody was punking me or something,” she says of Alan Jackson recording “Monday Morning Church,” which happened while she was still a student at Middle Tennessee State University. “You know, they just ran my song through a computer program that made it sound like this person was singing it.”
Enderlin has some impressive talent joining her on Whiskeytown Crier as well: Chris Stapleton provides backing vocals for two songs, and Randy Houser provides duet vocals on “The Coldest in Town.”
“Chris [Stapleton] was one of my first roommates when i moved to Nashville,” Enderlin shares. “We lived in a house [that a] bunch of different writers lived in. I could hear him singing through the air conditioning every night and I just remember laying there and being like, people are gonna be so jealous of me someday.” His signature howl can be heard on “Caroline” and “His Memory Walks on Water.”
“‘The Coldest in Town’ is a song that I just freaking love and I really, really wanted to duet,” Enderlin says of the Houser pairing. “When it came time to thinking about who we should have sing on it, Randy was one of the first people that came to mind because he can just really get to the heart of a song . . . he has that emotion in his voice to get it done.”
Enderlin co-wrote the majority of the songs on Whiskeytown Crier, excepting two: Tammy Wynette cover “‘Till I Can Make It On My Own” and Gram Parsons’ “Hickory Wind.” The covers, she says, were Johnson’s idea – he urged her to record songs that influenced her. “Which I love; country music’s all about embracing your influences,” she says. Enderlin’s long been a fan of the Emmylou Harris version of “Hickory Wind”; the Wynette cover was at Johnson’s urging. “Jamey was like, ‘What song would you never record of somebody else’s ’cause you’d be too intimidated?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, well this song,’ and he was like, ‘Cool, well that’s the one you’re gonna sing then,” she says.
Enderlin’s performance is emotive and understated, heart-wrenchingly and efficiently getting to the core of a song and serving it sharp and direct to the heart. Whiskeytown Crier is a journey of the soul, from tales of revenge to an emotional drinking companion during a rough road. Each character is tangible and feels next-door-neighbor real.
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