Bailey Bryan, a Country Upstart Who’s Already Looking Beyond
Posted on Apr 20th by Team WMN in Bailey Bryan,
The rising country singer Bailey Bryan’s debut EP is titled “So Far.”
By JON CARAMANICA
APRIL 19, 2017
The first sound you hear on Bailey Bryan’s debut country EP is a D.J. scratching a record, or a digital simulation thereof. The plangent, folksy guitars are right behind, of course, but they’ve been served a warning: No longer do they need to be front and center for a young country singer looking to make a mark.
Indeed, Ms. Bryan, who is 19 and hails from Sequim, Wash., is on a mission to rebuild country stardom with parts gathered far and wide: Miley Cyrus’s shimmery turn as Hannah Montana and her pre-twerk flirtation with country-pop; country singers with mild soul inclinations like Sara Evans and Lauren Alaina; pop singers like Alessia Cara and Halsey who serve as counter-narratives to pop’s perky instincts.
And of course, Taylor Swift, whom Ms. Bryan has studied in depth, from that singer’s early-career fixation on cool girls and the girls they exclude, and also the way she alternates between breathlessly racing through syllables and then pulling back to hit a few of them with power.
On each song on Ms. Bryan’s excellent, infectious debut EP, “So Far,” she refracts country music through a slightly different prism. “Own It,” the opener, is cheeky teen-pop — it could be the theme song for a quirky Disney Channel heroine: “I break things, like hearts and iPhones,” she sings.
As if to shore up her country bona fides, that’s immediately followed by “Hard Drive Home,” a lovely, grand smear of sadness that features some of Ms. Bryan’s most powerful singing. After that is “Scars,” which perhaps borrows a touch too much from Ms. Cara (including a song title similar to one of her hits) but is filled with rich songwriting — “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours/let’s scatter our ashes here on the floor” — and shout-outs to “Marilyn, Cobain and James Dean.”
The closest aesthetic peer Ms. Bryan has in contemporary country is probably Sam Hunt, who offers advanced-placement seminars in reconfiguring the genre’s DNA. Ms. Bryan is a less versatile singer (and hasn’t started rapping, at least not yet), but her instincts for finding underexplored musical pockets within country is impressive. She has a writing credit on each song on this EP, as does Dennis Matkosky, who produced it.
A symbol of the effectiveness of Ms. Bryan’s choices is that, even in her most country-friendly moments, Nashville outsiderdom is embedded into her work, right down to the lyrics on “Used To,” a song about leaving the womb for a shot at adulthood. “Don’t feel so alone ’til you’re there on the phone and your mama says ‘I miss you,’/that’s when it hits you,” she sings. The song moves with a slow confidence, and just the faintest hint of blues guitar, underscoring Ms. Bryan’s sweet-voiced melancholy. “I’m still getting used to the way it rains in Tennessee,” she sings. But at this rate, Nashville is just a way station — she won’t be there for long.