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Album Review: Carly Pearce Breaks Her Silence With EP "29"

"29" was released on Feb. 19, 2021. (Photo Used Under the Fair Use Provision of the US Copyright Code)

By Emma Duncan--Eagle Assistant Editor

If country music fans were asked to name some of the most common themes in country songs, breakups would most likely be atop this list. Singers go through hardships same as everyone else, and using these struggles to create songs can not only be healing for the writers, but also for listeners. Carly Pearce took this healing process one step further when she released her extended play (EP) 29 on Feb. 19, 2021.

On Oct. 16, 2019, Pearce got married to Michael Ray after 18 months of dating. Everything seemed fine until eight months later when Pearce filed for divorce.

"I truly thought I was gonna die. There were moments I seriously did not know if I could breathe. It was awful. It is awful,” Pearce shared with Good Morning America concerning her marriage experience.

While both Pearce and Ray have refused to speak publicly on why their marriage ended, Pearce did what she knew best in order to cope: she wrote.

“I think I’ve always been somebody who processes her emotions through writing. I’m not necessarily a great communicator immediately. I need, like, a minute to think about it. And I feel like [with] this music, I take you on a journey of how I processed what all happened to me over the course of the year,” Pearce told Us.

"29" totals at just over 20 minutes of music. (Photo Used Under the Fair Use Provision of the US Copyright Code)

An EP dedicated to moving on and learning from the past, 29 is made up of seven songs: "Next Girl", "Should’ve Known Better", "29", "Liability", "Messy", "Show Me Around", and "Day One". The overall tone of this EP is more on the softer side musically, but it's words possess great strength.

Opening track "Next Girl" features an upbeat, danceable tune which allows listeners to forget their troubles, even if it's only for a few minutes. This song is moreso a letter from Pearce to ex-husband Ray's next lover as a way to warn her of what's to come. In the first verse she sings "He'll charm your mama with that smile, Hide the red flags for a little while" to show Ray might have hid his true colors from Pearce until she was "his".

The remainder of 29 is much softer. "Should've Known Better" and title track "29" are tailored toward reflection and thinking about what could've been. They take a deeper look at her year of marriage to Ray, but a double meaning is also hidden in one of these songs.

In the opening verse of “Should’ve Known Better” Pearce sings that “[She is her] mother’s daughter, [She] watched her with [her] father, [She] saw it all, the good and bad”, which expresses Pearce’s disappointment in herself for not seeing the red flags. As she sings on, however, listeners find out Ray is the one who should've known better when Pearce sings "Boy, what a shame, what you're gonna miss". This track only adds to the ongoing wonder of what happened during Pearce and Ray's short lived marriage.

“Liability", a play-on-words, may hold the answer. If this track is truly about Pearce and Ray’s marriage, then there is a possibility Pearce was being cheated on. This is evident in the opening lines, which read “Midnight, you crawl back swearing you lost track, How can you say that with a straight face? Your phone is glowing, you say it's no one, It's funny no one calls me this late”. This song keeps with the softer pattern Pearce has created, but adds a little instrumental spunk which flows wonderfully with this vengeful track.

Even though it's evident Ray wasn't the best husband, that doesn't mean Pearce regrets her feelings for him.

"My love was real. I will stand by that forever," she said to Good Morning America.

Her struggle to fall out of love with Ray comes across in "Messy". It's here that Pearce admits leaving was no easy choice, and even though she was the one to end things, it has taken her a while to heal.

Pearce and busbee record a song together. (Photo Used Under the Fair Use Provision of the US Copyright Code)

Recording "Messy" and the rest of 29 was unlike any song Pearce had ever taped, as it was created without friend and producer Micheal James Ryan Busbee, better known just as busbee. He died on Sept. 29, 2019 of brain cancer, leaving his wife, three daughters, and hundreds of produced songs behind. Pearce was hit so hard by his passing that she wrote "Show Me Around" in his memory.

“As my mentor and friend, busbee helped me share the parts of my own life that I could only explain through music... At his funeral, a songwriter that all of us in Nashville love named Barry Dean gave a speech that painted the most beautiful picture of Heaven. There is no way to ease the pain of losing someone you love. This felt like a really hopeful way to look at our loved ones meeting us again one day and showing us around,” Pearce shared with Lorie Hollabaugh from Music Row.

While the song is very touching, it goes completely against the overall tone and meaning of this EP, and in my opinion, should've stayed a single.

29 comes to a close with "Day One". In this song, Pearce leaves listeners with some words of encouragement. She sings "There's no way to say how long it'll take 'til the damage comes undone, All I can do is try to get through day one", telling fans that everything gets better with time. Regardless of whether you were fired, lost a loved one, or just got out of a relationship, this song can be used to help make it through the pain.

Pain. This is how Pearce felt when she started writing 29. She had just gotten divorced, she felt alone. So, she did the only thing she knew, and created a story starting with heartbreak and doubt, but ending with recovery and hope. Hope for a fresh start. Hope for healing. Hope for someone better for her, but also for others going through a divorce.

"Life doesn’t always go the way that we think it will,' but that it is best to 'understand and trust the journey' you’re on. 'Trust God, trust the process and use each experience--whether it’s good or bad--as a place of refining you instead of defining you,'" Dory Jackson quoted Pearce in his Us article.

If one was to ask Pearce her feelings almost a year after ending her marriage, I believe she would mention her hope for tomorrow, all because of 29.

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