Living The Dream (Deluxe), by Haliey Whitters
Occasionally I am invited to do a rankdown of an artist that I have never heard of, though admittedly this is rarely the case. Most of the time when I listen to music I have some sort of basic familiarity with an artist, though perhaps not more than the name of a song or something of that nature. In this case, though, I was invited to rankdown (and thus to review) an album that I had never heard of, by an artist that I had never heard of, who until recently had never even released her first official single. What this means is that this particular record is something that never had the chance to become a widespread hit, never had the chance to become known, and may yet become so in the future if the artist happens to get bigger in the future. There can be a certain enjoyment in listening to an act before they are well known, in discovering them fairly early in the process of their artistic maturation. Is such a thing worthwhile here? If so, let us find out, and find out why a comparative no-name artist had a deluxe debut album.
“Ten Year Town” begins this album with a gentle and melancholy acoustic song that indicates the frustration of a long, slow process to becoming a big star. “The Days” is a look at the past, as well as about the relentless push of time and the longing to make that count. “Red Wine And Blue” tells a melancholy story of a rootless relationship and the author’s reflectiveness about her own folly and problem drinking. “Dream, Girl” is a melancholy but hopeful mid-tempo song encouraging a woman (maybe herself) not to give up on life because of the frustrations of life and relationships. “Loose Strings” gives a weary and honest portrayal about a doomed relationship between two people. “Heartland” provides another realistic look at how one has to treat your heart in the search for one’s dreams and their fulfillment. “Janice At The Hotel Bar” is a melancholy story song, about a curious but lonely woman with some nuanced views on life and behavior. “Happy People,” a song that had originally been written for Little Big Town, offers a reflective view of the destructive things that are not done by happy people. “The Devil Always Made Me Think Twice” is a bluesy song about self-destruction and obvious mistakes. “All The Cool Girls” looks at the indecisiveness and falsity of much coolness and contrasting it with genuine confidence. “The Faker” is a glacially-paced examination of a fake person and a pattern of foolish choices in relationships. The title track follows with a modest discussion of the singer’s dreams that sounds a lot like Maren Morris. “Fillin’ My Cup” (f/Little Big Town) gives a nuanced view of life and its complications with metaphor of drinking, perhaps predictably. “Glad To Be Here” (f/Brent Cobb) provides an example of hard-won optimism and gratitude that is refreshing in a world of negativity. “How To Break A Heart” (f/Lori McKenna & Hillary Lindsey) gives a discussion of how to break heart that obviously speaks from painful personal experience. “How Far Can It Go?” (f/Trisha Yearwood) tells a story of two young and driven people about to embark on a life together in a long-distance relationship from the point of view of a sympathetic outsider. “The Ride” (f/Jordan Davis) is another philosophical look at life and what is it that makes something worthwhile.
Individually, this is an album that is more than the sum of its parts. Just about any song off of this album would sound perfectly enjoyable on country radio, and some of them seem like obvious should-be hits,” from “Dream, Girl” to “Heartland” to “How Far Can It Go?” Yet when the album is taken as a whole, there is a certain consistent mood to this album that rubs this listener at least a little bit the wrong way. Despite the fact that songwriting here is sharp and the production occasionally brilliant, there is an overall feeling on this album that life is out of our hands and that we aren’t really responsible for what happens, and this desire to escape responsibility is often portrayed by reflecting on cool girls and men in general on this album who the singer-songwriter happens to be with as imposters so often that it seems and feels like projection. The author wants to make an album that is full of reflections on life that feel real but there is something missing in most of the album that just hits the wrong way after an hour of listening. It is a shame that the singer appears able to be optimistic about love and relationships only when she is not talking about herself, but an undercurrent of misandry keeps this album from being as good as it could have been, and that is a great shame.