'One of the best things about country music was that it was adult music,'' Erin Enderlin says. ''It was real music that dealt with hard issues in life so that people going through those things don‚Äôt feel so alone.''
The observation is signature Enderlin: She has a way of turning a song or even just a thought into an outstretched hand to the lonely or ashamed. While she first turned heads as a godsend to those aching for an artist with some golden-era country backbone, Enderlin‚Äôs acclaimed 2017 record Whiskeytown Crierfirmly cemented her as something even more: a literary songwriter and superb vocal stylist with a knack for sharply drawn‚Äì‚Äìand often sad‚Äì‚Äìcharacters. Backsliders, avengers, lovers, and victims‚Äì‚Äìthey‚Äôre all swapping forlorn tales on the collection, which is a fresh take on the concept album set in a small Southern town.
Now, Enderlin is home in Nashville, stopping to reflect on that record and the past couple of years as she enjoys a little downtime after opening a run of shows for Jamey Johnson. 2018 was especially busy: Named a member of the 2018 CMT Next Women of Country class, recipient of the Arkansas Country Music Awards Songwriter and Album of the Year trophies, and runner-up to Jason Isbell in the Best Singer-Songwriter field in the Nashville Scene‚Äôs touchstone Best of Nashville issue, Enderlin surged to the top of playlists. Already a go-to writer for stars looking for heavyweight country with classic panache‚Äì‚ÄìAlan Jackson‚Äôs ''Monday Morning Church,'' Lee Ann Womack‚Äôs ''Last Call,'' Luke Bryan‚Äôs ''You Don‚Äôt Know Jack,'' and a host of other songs for Randy Travis, Joey+Rory, and more are all Enderlin-penned‚Äì‚Äìshe added marquee cuts to her catalog: Reba recorded ''The Bar‚Äôs Getting Lower'' for her upcoming album Stronger Than the Truth; Terri Clark featured five Enderlin-written gems on her Raising the Bar album; Whisperin‚Äô Bill Anderson recorded and released her ''Waffle House Christmas,'' then featured her in the song‚Äôs beloved video. After listening to Enderlin perform on the radio broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry while en route there herself, Jeannie Seely decided to sing the song she heard Enderlin deliver, the gut-punching ''I Let Her Talk.'' This summer, Enderlin is up for six more Arkansas Country Music Awards.
The flurry of activity‚Äì‚Äìespecially from classic country giants who are still standing‚Äì‚Äì thrills Enderlin. ''I can‚Äôt believe I got that Reba cut‚Äì‚Äìit‚Äôs a lifelong dream,'' she says. ''It‚Äôs kind of ridiculous. Sometimes I just think, ‚ÄòAre there more five-year-olds thinking, I want to play the Opry and I want Reba to sing my songs!‚Äô And then it happens?'' She laughs, still high from the win.
If Enderlin is tired after all the creative hustle, she doesn‚Äôt let on. Instead, she sounds energized by her latest project, which she describes as a sort of ''evolution'' of Whiskeytown Crier. Enderlin plans to release four EPs throughout 2019. In a twist that stretches the possibilities of storytelling through song, each three-track collection will be driven by a single character. ''I‚Äôm obsessed with characters, and the idea of being able to take that to the next level really appeals to me,'' she says. ''It‚Äôs really ambitious.'' She pauses and laughs again before adding, ''But I do think it‚Äôs going to be something really cool.''
The first EP, Volume 1: Tonight I Don‚Äôt Give a Damn, proves ''cool'' is an understatement. Three songs follow a woman first introduced on ''Broken,'' a standout Whiskeytown Crier track. ''For me, it was really interesting to think about how her situation was going to affect the rest of her life,'' Enderlin says. ''We may get certain ideas about a character right off the bat, based on a situation they‚Äôre in, and then, you‚Äôre entrenched. But what made this person that way? What happened to them?''
''Broken'' reappears on Volume 1: Tonight I Don‚Äôt Give a Damn as the sorrowful anchor. A first-person look at abuse‚Äôs lifetime of reverberations, the song introduces a woman living with choices made‚Äì‚Äìboth her own and that of those around her.
Kicking off with pedal steel, ''Till It‚Äôs Gone'' picks back up with ''Broken''‚Äôs protagonist, this time as she‚Äôs haunted by memories in a seedy motel room. The mourning steel serves as a second narrator, crying between Enderlin‚Äôs poignant vignettes. ''I don‚Äôt think you can have too much pedal steel,'' she says. ''If someone says you can, you probably need to get rid of that person because you don‚Äôt need that kind of negativity in your life.''
The EP‚Äôs title track finds the woman, who is never named but so intimately known, settling for forbidden companionship and brown liquor in a dive bar. It‚Äôs one more example of Enderlin‚Äôs stealthy ability to make listeners pity instead of condemn. ''I tend to gravitate toward the first person,'' she says. ''Sometimes there are stories that you can‚Äôt do that with, but there is a certain grittiness when you can‚Äì‚Äìwhen you can take the character on and speak for them.''
The three songs would stand alone as winning modern takes on traditional honky tonk, but together, they create a layered story arc from a woman‚Äôs point-of-view that answers some questions even as it leaves listeners with more. The result is a major accomplishment in musicianship, storytelling, and playing around with art‚Äôs established paradigms of delivery.
Enderlin is obviously intrigued by new ways of reaching fans‚Äô ears, and the EPs are just one dimension to her approach. She will also offer E-Clips and E-Covers: the first, social-media-ready snippets of songs made famous by others; the second, complete new versions of some of Enderlin‚Äôs favorite songs, released on Spotify, Apple Music and other digital platforms. ''I‚Äôm a huge musicphile,'' she says. ''What better way is there to get to know an artist than to learn what their influences are and what music they love, too?''
In the end, Enderlin is experimenting with country music‚Äôs form while honoring its roots‚Äì‚Äìa rare blend that balances her need to challenge and embrace herself alongside an urge to meet people exactly where they are. ''We all live hectic lives, which makes getting these little nuggets-‚Äìthese songs‚Äì‚Äìgreat,'' she says. ''You have extra time and attention for each song. It‚Äôs like, okay, this can be your baby today. You can really sink your teeth into this song and figure it out.''
I Can Be Your Whiskey
Whatever Gets You Through The Night
The Queen of Marina del Rey
Tonight I Don‚Äôt Give A Damn
Use Me Again
Hell Comin‚Äô Down
A Man With 18 Wheels
Till It‚Äôs Gone
These Boots (Full Band Version)
Old Flames (Can‚Äôt Hold a Candle To You)
Run Baby Run
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