Hailing from The Garden State of New Jersey, meet artist Rachel Allyn. Her career started at age ten in dive bars throughout the state, where her parents would take her to take part in karaoke contests. She grew up listening to a variety of artists that have shaped her including Shania Twain, the Beatles and Elvis Costello. Now she cites her influences as Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton. It’s quite a list of artists to take influence from to shape her music. When Allyn is asked what she calls her music she labels it Americana Country. Furthermore she says, “As long as it’s meaningful, I don’t care what anyone wants to call it. Country music, Americana music and alt-country music, however you want to define each of them, all come from the same place. They were all born of the same kind of storytelling and I feel like they’re all converging again. This is a really exciting and interesting time for country music, and consequently, for myself as an artist.” With that in mind I dove head first into her third album Next Year’s Girl. After thoroughly listening to it, I find Americana Country is a perfect descriptor of the album.
The album’s title track is an upbeat, steel guitar-driven commentary on female artists in country music. Themes explored throughout the song includes the emphasis on looks, how only one female artist per year is seemingly allowed to shine and how female artists need to stop allowing the industry to pit themselves against each other. While it could be a little more fleshed out, the song gets it’s point across. It should also be noted that this song was written as a response to Elvis Costello’s “This Year’s Girl.” “Crash Hard” is about a heartbreaker of a woman who never let anyone into her life. That was until she came across a man she falls in love with and doesn’t want to let go. She says if he leaves her, she’ll be crashing hard as a result. It’s a solid song, although it drags just a tad too long.
The soft “No Second Chances (Tennessee),” is about a woman dealing with an ex boyfriend and her ex-home of Tennessee. She’s moved on to a new place and new man, but both are trying to pull themselves back into her life. Her ex boyfriend never treated her right and Tennessee tore her apart and she desperately pleads for both to stop calling her. It’s a really well written song and a highlight of the album. “Perfect” is about trying to keep a relationship together. The woman pleads to the man to stay and work through their issues together, arguing they’re better together. It’s a solid song with fun and decidedly country production.
Perhaps my favorite of Next Year’s Girl is “After All (The Bird Song).” The song is centered on a bird in a cage, which sits in her cage silently. Her owner wonders why the bird has lost it’s voice and doesn’t want to sing, so this prompts the owner to sing to the bird. The bird finds it’s voice again and sings it’s songs it used to sing again. On surface the story seems to be about the bird, but really it’s about losing confidence in life and finding that courage to be you again. Backed by some lingering fiddle and steel guitar, I would call this the best track on the album. Written in response to Kacey Musgraves’ “It Is What It Is,” “Going Through The Motions” is an organ-backed tune about realizing what you lose when you let go of a relationship. A woman realizes after her man has left that she realizes she misses the “going through the motions” part of the relationship and having someone to sleep with at night. While the production is a little busy, it’s a solid song. The album closes out with “For What It’s Worth.” Allyn covers the Buffalo Springfield song (written by Stephen Sills) superbly and certainly does it justice. It’s a bit jarring hearing such an old song from a young artist, but then again I hear a lot of old soul in Allyn. The instrumentation really shines on this song too, especially the organ play towards the end.
Next Year’s Girl shows that Rachel Allyn is an artist who should be on more people’s radars. She knows exactly where she wants to go with her music and her songwriting is engaging, personal and vibrant. The production and arrangement of the songs on this album are great too. The main sound this album appears to go for is a soulful Muscle Shoals meets traditional country sound. It works well and suits Allyn’s voice. Female Americana and country artists have really shined in 2016 and Allyn is yet another example you can add to the ever-growing list. You don’t hear very many country/Americana artists from New Jersey, but this is one New Jersey Americana artist you need to hear. Rachel Allyn steps up to the plate and hits a home run with Next Year’s Girl.