To say that the output of the Nashville establishment has been hit or miss lately might be the understatement of the decade, but the same can’t be said for country music’s underground leaders like Charlie Marie, whose May EP Charlie Marie feature more zeal and panache than anything we’ve seen out of the mainstream side of the dial this year. With five single-quality songs in its tracklist (including the provocative country tune “Rhinestones”), this self-titled extended play from the much-buzzed singer and songwriter isn’t a stylistic quantum leap from what we heard on her 2015 debut, yet it’s got an aesthetical edginess that – and I can confirm this – most of us weren’t expecting to hear. Charlie Marie is ready for the big leagues, and while her new record isn’t a world-altering release for country music, it’s definitely an EP that could be a game-changer for her career.
There’s a heavy folk music influence in “Rodeo” and “Countryside,” with the former borrowing its opening salvo from a mid-70’s John Denver song (without disrespecting the Colorado poet laureate’s untouchable legacy, of course). The lyrical lashings in the climax of “Playboy” have a rebellious energy that falls in line more with the growl of alternative country than it does hipster singer/songwriters, but I’m not convinced that it’s born of either scene exclusively. Charlie Marie is hard to categorize by typical critical standards, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, it makes her hard to market to a specific audience, while on the other, it makes her brand all the more marketable to the mass audience (think eclectic college radio), and more specifically, millennials who can’t get enough of a hot hybridity when they hear it.
I think it’s overwhelmingly clear that tonality is of paramount importance to Charlie Marie, and if it isn’t, she does a good job of fooling us into believing as much on her new EP. The string play is clean, clear and crisp in “Rhinestones,” even at its most overdriven and stinging with reverberation. The vocal glides through the air around us in “Rodeo” and “Countryside,” while the gaunt textural expressions in “Shot in the Dark” are even more thrilling than the haunting hook in “Playboy” is. It’s a shame that most – if not all – of her contemporaries don’t pay as much attention to detail as she does, but then again, that’s probably why her music has stood out as much as it has on such a consistent basis.
Charlie Marie is growing up as a songwriter in 2019, and while the fans will be the ultimate judge, I think that she’s within striking distance of mainstream fame and fortune with the release of this brand new extended play. It might be a self-titled record, but it’s the antithesis of the self-contained egotism that has become way too common in the modern country music that we hear when scanning FM radio. She’s committing herself to a beloved American tradition in this release, and making it known to everyone exactly who she is as a musician, and more importantly, what she’s all about as an artist.
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