Review: Hailey Whitters Releases Debut Album ‘Black Sheep’

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Hailey Whitters released today her debut album, Black Sheep, a ten-track group of raucous uptempos and heartfelt ballads. Whitters’ writing appears on eight of the songs on Black Sheep, which was produced by Derek Wells.

Whether grooving through brighter tracks or crooning through lows, Whitters has a raw energy and fearless grit to her sound, akin to fellow powerhouses Miranda Lambert or The Dixie Chicks. It’s a sound that’ll appeal to those craving a more traditional country sound, without feeling dated or limited. It’s packed with crunchy, off-tempo guitars, edgy vocals, and attitude, as on the deliciously tumultuous, rocking “Pocket Change.” “I don’t want to love you anymore,” Whitters sings decisively. It’s an attitude that pervades Black Sheep, a bit of a my-way-or-the-highway mentality. “Yeah you wanna be a heartbreaker, do you? / Well baby, before you do / Take it from a heartbreaker to one / Remember I can break hearts too,” she sings on “Heartbreaker.” “There’s a long come to Jesus waiting on the other side,” she cautions in the lead-off track, a high-speed confession to a moment of questionable choices.

Even for her faults, Whitters is unapologetic, sporting a bravado and confidence that spans the highs of the record. In “Long Come to Jesus,” written with Matraca Berg, mistakes happen; in “Black Sheep,” going against the grain is championed. “Little black sheep looked up one day / Said, am I the only one who looks this way? / Yeah, am I the only one who wants to cut loose? / That hole in the fence, gonna jump right through / You said I’m bad, but maybe you’re right / But when I’m gone you won’t look so white,” Whitters sings on the title track.

Not that Whitters is incapable of vulnerability. On “One More Hell,” which Whitters wrote alone in honor of her younger brother, who was killed at 19 in a car accident, Whitters is heartbreakingly stoic. While acknowledging the pain of the situation, Whitters shines sun on the best memories, a delicate and beautifully written balance between helplessness and positivity. “If Heaven’s like they say it is, save me seat / I can’t wait to hear your laugh and have you next to me / If I had a superpower, I know what I would do / I’d forget about the hell to pay and raise one more hell with you,” Whitters sings.

“Nobody’s perfect,” Whitters sings on “People Like You,” a stand-out on the album. The song could well be the glass-half-full counterpart to John Mayer’s “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room,” a meeting of two flawed people finding the perfect match in each other. “If you’re broken down, beat up, well I am too / That’s why people like me need people like you,” she sings. On the tightly written “Get Around,” Whitters bemoans the downsides of being sexually available. “We all got our own demons / Well mine’s the kind that comes without feelings,” Whitters sings. “Low All Afternoon” could well be the companion piece, specific to one encounter and sympathetic to the struggle.

Through tougher lows or head-held-highs, Whitters stands apart from the herd, for a strong debut that begs repeated listens.

Grab Black Sheep on iTunes or stream below:

Track listing:

1.  Long Come To Jesus (Hailey Whitters, Matraca Berg)

2.  City Girl (Adam Wright, Shannon Wright)

3.  Late Bloomer (Hailey Whitters)

4.  Black Sheep (Hailey Whitters, Adam Wright)

5.  Low All Afternoon (Hailey Whitters)

6.  One More Hell (Hailey Whitters)

7.  Heartbreaker (Hailey Whitters, Adam Wright)

8.  People Like You (Hailey Whitters, Kelsey Anna)

9.  Pocket Change (Mando Saenz, Shelly Colvin)

10.  Get Around (Hailey Whitters, Stephanie Lambring)

Tour:

September 18 – Waynesville, NC – The Strand at 38 Main

September 19 – Winston-Salem, NC – Muddy Creek Cafe

September 25 – Louisville, KY – The Tin Roof

September 26 – Lexington, KY – The Tin Roof

September 29 – Nashville, TN – The Basement (release show)

October 17 – Chicago, IL – Joe’s Bar