From her debut album in 2017 Every Little Thing, to her sophomore self-titled record in 2020, to today with 29: Written In Stone, her growth as an artist is apparent.
But, that’s thanks in large part to her growth as a person. After an eight month marriage to fellow country music singer Michael Ray, Carly filed for divorce in June of 2020. Though it’s something no one ever foresees happening in a marriage, especially one that lasted less than a year, it’s obvious that she’s come out on the other side better than before.
Carly was born and raised in Northern Kentucky. She performed in a bluegrass band growing up, and at the age of 16, she dropped out of high school and moved to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to perform at Dollywood.
Though it may seem like she’s an overnight success in some ways, she’s put in years of work in Nashville playing small bars (and cleaning Airbnb’s) to get to this point. Recently, all of that culminated in a beautiful moment as she was inducted as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry.
And, those milestones and little moments also bring us to today with the arrival of her third full-length studio album. It’s also the first time she’s written every song on a project, and you can hear every bit of her story, heartbreak, and ultimate triumph in each one.
With plenty of fiddle and stunning harmonies throughout, the influence of her childhood in Kentucky is baked into almost every one, as well.
Since she released her 29 EP earlier this year with seven fantastic songs, I want to focus on some of the newer ones we haven’t had a chance to hear yet.
I think when we hear the term “divorce album” (which is essentially what this is), we all have the expectation that it’s going to be raw and striking and pull on our heart strings, and it most certainly did. Though not every one of us knows exactly what divorce feels like, we’ve all experienced deep heartbreak in some form or fashion.
With all that said, let’s get into some of the music.
My absolute favorite song from this record is “Mean It This Time.” It expresses some of the regret she might still have from her failed marriage and how, next time she says “I do,” it will be the last time. And, it will be a more sacred and meaningful union than the first.
Written by Carly alongside Emily Shackelton and Jordan Reynolds, they paint a stunning picture of all the mixed emotions that come with accepting a failed relationship and trying to learn from different mistakes.
She fully intends to make the next marriage the one she had always dreamed about:
“Well I meant it when I said it And it ain’t my fault I had to take it back I’m workin’ real hard to not regret it And forgive myself for fallin’ in like that Say I rushed in, call me foolish Oh, but I learned my lesson
When I say forever I’m gonna write it in stone A hundred years wouldn’t be long enough It would never get old And when I give my heart away And lay it all on the line When I tell the world I’m yours And baby you’re mine I wanna mean it this time I’m gonna mean it this time”
Then, there’s “What He Didn’t Do”.
Part of what I love about this whole record is that she really managed to take the high road, while still expressing every bit of emotion she felt during her marriage and subsequent divorce. A tough balance, no doubt about that.
Here, she mentions that while we won’t learn all the nitty-gritty details of what exactly happened between the two of them, it all boils down to the fact that, in the end, “it wasn’t what he did, no, it was what he didn’t do.”
“Easy Going” shows off the brilliance of Carly, Josh Osborne and Natalie Hemby with a little attitude that I love. Though Carly seems like a very sweet woman, this song shows off a bit of a different side of her.
The turn of phrase in how they use “easy going” is genius. And, it finds Carly saying that, if she still thought the guy was the angel he seemed like when they first met, she couldn’t have an easier time leaving him after everything he did to her.
Quite possibly my favorite lyrics from the whole record, she doesn’t hold back and I’m HERE for it:
“Cause roses hide thorns And devils hide horns Guess I finally saw yours”
Next, let’s talk about “You Drinkin’, My Problem.” Another clinic in fabulous songwriting, she wrote this one with Ben West, Nicolle Galyon and Sasha Sloan.
She details all the ways she had to absorb many of the side effects that came along with her ex drinking too much. Or, as she puts it, all too often she found herself “stone cold sober, wakin’ up hungover.” Brilliant.
The last one I want to highlight, “All The Whiskey In The World,” is another sassy story about her ex’s drinking problems.
No matter how much Kentucky dry he drinks, he’ll never be able to forget her or all of the mistakes he’s made in their relationship.
All things considered, I think this is by far Carly’s best work yet. It’s authentic, honest, and incorporates so much of who she is that it’s impossible to feel like you don’t know her a little bit better after listening to it all the way through.
It’s hard to find another artist in mainstream country music that resonates the way Carly seems to be as of late. She’s just so likable and easy to root for. And, I think this record is really just the beginning for her.
As a young woman myself, I couldn’t be happier that she put herself out there and took the sadness, disappointment, and hopefulness of year 29 and wrote it all poetically and honestly in stone.
And, as a country music fan, there’s really nothing more you can ask for.