Often, we traditionalists are labeled by the mainstream as close-minded purists living in the past, wanting everything to sound like Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings. We can’t embrace anything new and forward-thinking. Well, sit back and listen, because I am a traditionalist reviewer about to embrace something quite new and different. Meet Aubrie Sellers, the daughter of the brilliant singer Lee Ann Womack and songwriter Jason Sellers. Aubrie comes onto the scene in a time when country music is desperate for women, for substance, and yes, for originality. She brings us a style she calls “garage country”–a blend of country, Americana, and garage rock. Much like Whitney Rose’s 2015 Heartbreaker of the Year, with its blend of traditional country and vintage pop, Aubrie’s New City Blues introduces something new to country music that you won’t have heard before–something not every listener will embrace, and something that is at times overdone and forced on this record, but something for which Aubrie Sellers will stand out and for which she should be commended.
The album opens with guitar licks, introducing us to garage country long before we meet Aubrie. This album is unapologetic in what it wants to be, unlike Cam’s recent effort, Untamed, which, though it showed Cam’s potential, struggled to say anything and find an identity. “Light of Day,” the first track, tells me two more things–I quite like garage country, and Aubrie Sellers sounds remarkably like her mother, which is an absolutely wonderful thing. “Light of Day” is infectious, the perfect way of introducing us to Aubrie Sellers and to the style. “Sit Here and Cry” is an upbeat heartbreak song, which I find quite intriguing. It features some great harmonica play, but the lyrics are nothing special, and the garage country is a bit overdone here. “Paper Doll” is a moment of complete rock–and on this song of frustration with girls acting like “paper dolls” with their “fake makeup,” this approach works. More songs like this would bring the album down, but “Paper Doll” stands out as a highlight, an experiment.
“Losing Ground” slows the album down–here, Aubrie sings of a woman who is going through a difficult time; “But I’m not crazy, I’m just losing ground,” she sings. The heartfelt honesty in this song really sells it, and I am glad this song was more strip-back, allowing Aubrie’s voice to shine, along with the lyrics. It should be noted that this is one of two songs on New City Blues solely written by Aubrie Sellers, which makes me excited for her future as a songwriter. Next is “Magazines”–a full garage country rant about the lies magazines tell women, from weight loss plans to how to get a man. It’s something that Kacey Musgraves or Brandy Clark would sing, and I am not surprised that Brandy Clark was a writer. “Magazines” seems a little overproduced; it feels like the garage country is a bit forced. “Dreaming in the Day” gets everything right–the production and the lyrics and Aubrie’s vocals go together perfectly. Here, the narrator sings of “sitting at a green light,” still thinking of the night before with her man. “Liar Liar” is another one where the production fits perfectly, telling the story of a man in a bar who is good at lying to women. “Humming Song” is the other song written solely by Sellers; it’s another strip-back moment that might sound happy and pleasant if the lyrics weren’t so sad. The woman here is heartbroken over her man falling for someone else, and writing this new woman love letters. It’s the slow, stripped-down counterpart to “Sit Here and Cry”–both are lighthearted songs on the surface, but the lyrics are actually quite dark.
“Just to be With You” returns to Aubrie’s signature garage country, complete with distortions–here, a woman is quitting her job, stealing a car, and generally being reckless in order to be with a man who lives far away. The production fits here; it is just as reckless as the lyrics. Love will make us do bizarre things, and this song does a good job of expressing that desperation. “People Talking” tells of the things people say behind our backs–Aubrie sings, “My ears only burn when they’re not around. Go on believe them, what am I to do? It’s only people talking, it’s not true.” This feels like an honest moment on the album, and because of that, I feel it is slightly overproduced. Here, the style doesn’t add to the song, it distracts from Aubrie’s voice and the lyrics.
The next three songs get the production absolutely right. “Something Special” is about a woman asking her man to do “something special, something we don’t do all the time.” It’s one of the better songs on the album, and one I keep coming back to. “Loveless Rolling Stone” is about a rambling woman who seems to be missing someone–“They say home is where the heart is, and if that’s so, I must be a loveless rolling stone”–what a line. “Like the Rain” is the most country moment on the album; it’s a song about a man who “floods my heart, then leaves it desert dry.” I am glad this song lets Aubrie’s voice shine and tell us the story. She really conveys the sadness of the woman in this song well. The album closes with the full garage country “Living is Killing Me.” Honestly, I’ve listened to this song four times, and I can’t quote a line. It’s not bad, it’s just unnecessary. Fourteen songs is generally too many for an album, and this one feels like filler, and further forces the style.
Overall, this is a great album. Aubrie Sellers has a remarkable voice, and her unique garage country style is original and suits her. Still, there are moments of overproduction, where the style is simply overdone. Having said that, this is, for the most part, an excellent debut. New City Blues brings something new to the table, and it’s definitely worth checking out.