Undoubtedly I would say the most under-appreciated people in the music business are songwriters. They are the lifeblood of the industry and most of the time they don’t get their due recognition for writing all of the hits you hear on the radio. While there are many big stars in country music who will gives thanks to their writers, they still don’t get their own spotlight to shine themselves. Last year I think Lori McKenna opened up a lot of people’s eyes to this (Stapleton the year before too). So I was pretty anxious to hear the debut album from Nashville songwriter Natalie Hemby. She’s helped penned numerous songs for the likes of Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Kacey Musgraves and most notably Miranda Lambert. Not only she helped write some of her hits, but had a big hand in writing some of the best songs (“Ugly Lights” and “Keeper of the Flame”) on Lambert’s new album The Weight of These Wings. Hemby now gets a chance to show her own music to the world with her debut album Puxico, named after her hometown of Puxico, Missouri.
The album opens with the upbeat “Time Honored Tradition,” a song that espouses looking for a nice small town where traditions and memory making still exists. The guitars really give this song infectious warmth. “Grand Restoration” is definitely a standout on Puxico, as the song is about changes and traditions that are carried from generation to generation. It’s really the main theme Hemby explores on this album, as many of the songs deal with balancing old memories and new sights. The old is certainly remembered on “Cairo, IL.” It’s a song about the city of the same name, which is located near both the Mississippi River and Ohio River. It’s a place where many leave for greener pastures, a shell of what it once was in its heyday. Cairo is a microcosm of many small towns across America and the complicated feelings those have that are attached to a small town. I would argue this is the best track of the album, as it’s an excellent and real look at small towns.
On “Ferris Wheel” Hemby likens life to…well a Ferris wheel. As she says, the views best at the top while waiting at the bottom we dream of reaching the top. It’s really clever songwriting, not to mention I really enjoy all of the steel guitar too. “Worn” celebrates the tried and true things in life. I’m not crazy about the drum loop on “This Town Still Talks About You.” It can also feel like the song drags a little bit. I do enjoy the steel guitar though and the lyrics do a good job of creating a nostalgic feeling, as the song is about reminiscing about an old friend who left town. Puxico really closes out strong with “Return.” As I said before Hemby had a big hand in writing songs on Lambert’s latest album and this song sounds like something you would hear on it. The song has a real lively feel and I really enjoy Hemby’s vocals in particular. This song also experiments with the sound a little bit more than the rest of the album, which I always appreciate when an artist tries something different and makes it work. “Return” is certainly a memorable song to my ears.
Natalie Hemby delivers a really solid debut record in Puxico. I think she does well exploring the album’s main theme of small town living, which can be easy to fall into traps when writing about. She keeps a real attitude towards it, acknowledging both the real problems of them and the sentimental feelings we can hold about them too. The instrumentation is pretty good and in some cases really adding something to the song. I’m hopeful we get to hear more from her in the future, as I think Hemby is capable of delivering even better music than what she gives us on Puxico.
Recommend? – Yes
Album Highlights: Cairo, IL, Ferris Wheel, Return, Time Honored Tradition, Grand Restoration
Bad Songs: None