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CARLY PEARCE'S "NEXT GIRL" AND THE SECRET OF SOLIDARITY

Tumbling out of the speakers like a gust of fresh air, Carly Pearce creates a safe space for the same kind of ’90s country that defined her. Banjo claw-picked as the electric guitar twangs a sturdy melodic bottom, the tone is set for her dusky alto to sweep into the kind of lyric that gave women a strength tempered by a sense of humor.

Not bluegrass, nor Bakersfield, this is the’80s/’90s intersection that boys like Jon Pardi, The Brothers Osbrne and Luke Combs have mined for the last 18-24 months. But when you turn up the femme factor, add in the sass of Patty Loveless, the irony of Pam Tillis, the spunk of Reba and the sparkle of “9 To 5” Dolly Parton and a dollop of The Chicks’ brashness, “New Girl” offers a whole other take on one of modern country’s golden ages.

Having lost champion/producer busbee during the recording of her thrice-CMA-nominated “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” Pearce felt unmoored. But with a true survivor’s instinct, she did what she’s always done: pulled out her records, dug into the music, got lost in the artists mentioned above (along with some Tammy and Loretta). The more she listened, the more she absorbed – and the more she marinated, the more the revelation became clear: take this into the studio.

Viola! “Next Girl” became her “wise up, sister” power-acoustic whirl. Big Machine's CMA Best New Artist dissects the way a smooth-talking ladies’ man works his game,  as she and co-writer/producers Shane McAnally and Josh Osborn embrace that same swooping uplift that gave Keith Urban’s midcareer “ganjo”-strong hits (think “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me?,” “We Were Us,” “Somebody Like You”  ) their narcotic tilt.

“Next Girl” is a musical earworm. The flush verses, all picked instruments and effervescent groove, fall away on the chorus, leaving just percussion and Pearce’s smoke ‘n’ honey voice running the playbook of a slithering Lothario preying on the young woman who’s falling for his line.

As smart and confectionary as the musical thrust is, it’s confidante confidence that makes this sizzle. With an ear for deception and a clear eye for the postmortem marginalizing of the previous lover, the CMA Song of the Year nominee wraps caution in punchline after punchline about the dude making his move. Which would be hilarious if – sadly – it weren’t so often true.

I bet he said he never falls this hard, yeah, I remember that part,” she sings cheerily.  “He knows how to say all the right things, knows how to get you out of that dress, knows how to make you think you’re the best thing,” she continues with a wink and an eyeroll, before getting drop-dead real: “But I know what happens next, Girl...”

Not since Carrie Underwood keyed the truck of the guy slapping on three dollars worth of bathroom Polo in “Before He Cheats” has a woman been this frank about how things go in the Battle of the Sexes. It’s not a “can’t live with’em, can’t live without ’em” proposition so much as telling a younger, more innocent female the truth about the way guys are. Leaning into the denial of “it was her, not him,” Pearce strips back every line the new girl swallows—that she’s different, she’s the one. Not just the one, but the special magic princess the Lothario didn’t think was real.

“Hey next girl, you think that you know better
Maybe the last girl was just a little bitter
And jaded
Yeah, there ain’t no doubt
If he ever talks about
The ex-girl
She tried like hell
it was too late to save herself
So now know she’s just
Trying to help the next girl...”

Not quite a public service, but perhaps a “there but for the grace of God” kind of song, it offers feminism a solidarity that’s not rhetorical, but action-based. In a world where catfighting is viewed with amusement and competition for men is actively promoted, Pearce pulls the chair out from under the way the table’s set—and potentially saves this wide-eyed object of desire from the trouble ahead.

Talk about a revolution! Actual country, banjo-forward. Lyrics that dig deeper into the moment and disrupt the tropes for actual truth. A woman artist not steaming, but laughing—and rather than seeking revenge, she’s a crossing guard at the intersection of “wanting to fall in love” and “romantic road kill.”

At this rate, Carly Pearce may well be set up to be the Next Girl breakthrough. She’s already written two #1s; the third could be the charm.

 

Photo by Allister Ann

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