How often on these endless reality shows and talent competitions do we see judges and vocal coaches stress the importance of individuality? They are not only looking for raw talent, but something unique and fresh and different. And why not, when so much of popular music continues to pump out more of the same ideas from different voices? Any music class will tell you that music cannot expand further, that at this point, it’s just rehashing old ways and modes of doing the same things–this is one of the biggest criticisms of contemporary music by those who study classical and believe modern music to be somehow inferior to that discipline. So it’s up to those makers of modern music to work within the confines of their craft to continue to stand out and present us with new ideas. And country music is often regarded as one of the most restrictive genres in which to create things, so it’s even more impressive when you see a country artist proving all of these theories wrong.
That is what we see with Emily Herring’s latest album, Gliding, as she presents a traditional approach heavily blended with influences of Western swing. So many country artists today in the independent realms are doing this east Nashville/Americana sound that by now has been absolutely done to death to the point it’s about the least original and most clichéd thing you can possibly do outside the mainstream, or they’re mixing in the raw rock influences of Red dirt, or they’re making West Coast country with a modern take on the polished Nashville sound. This isn’t any of that, it’s something all its own, and yet it’s more traditional than many records released this year. Herring’s influence comes closer to that of Bob Wills than anything else, but this record is not trapped in that time period either, as she’s got a voice reminiscent of Robyn Ludwick or perhaps Tanya Tucker, which lends itself to harder mixes of country and rock and gives this album yet another unique quality.
But neither Ludwick nor Tucker possess the falsetto of Emily Herring, an addition which renders her able to pull off softer, more vulnerable songs like “Midnight” and “Yellow Mailbox” right along with some of the harder stuff like the title track and the painfully honest “Right Behind Her.” This one is the highlight of the record, as she lays out the truth that she literally doesn’t know if she can go on living without her mother being there for her. “If my mother were to die, I fear that I’d be right behind her,” cuts even more when you know that her mother did die in the final stages of this album’s making. That bluntness in her writing comes out on the closer, “Getting By,” also, as she describes her days as a mechanic and only being responsible for herself, trying to stretch a dime in order to survive.
This album needed some moments of levity to brighten the mood, and they come in the form of two covers, “All the Millers in Milwaukee” and “Semi Truck.” The former especially suits Emily and her voice and allows more of the fun side of her personality to stand out. It also fits more on the record as a whole than the latter because although light, it’s still a breakup song like much of the more serious material. There’s another lighter moment in the Western swing-infused “Best Thing I’ve Seen Yet,” and although it’s not a personal favorite, it adds balance to the album and shows another, more tender side of Emily Herring.
This album is not without its flaws, and it could have used perhaps another jolt of energy and maybe some sharper songwriting in places, but it’s still a good, promising record from Herring and one that is worth checking out, if only for its unique nature. Its propensity to draw from the influences of Western swing, combined with a voice like Emily’s, suited more for classic rock or harder country but somehow lending itself to these songs very well, makes this album intriguing and certainly memorable in the country space. It might not be a record you love on first listen; rather, it’s more an acquired thing, a potential you see in a song or two that unveils itself after a few listens to the whole album. In the end, it’s that potential which shines brightest about this release, and Emily Herring becomes another cool discovery of 2017, even if the year is nearly over. Not an album, and certainly not an artist, to be overlooked.