Well, it’s about time.
The thing is, when critics usher that statement, it’s rarely directed at the artists themselves. I’m thrilled to have new music from Mickey Guyton – especially five years after her most recent release. But for one, this feels like a weak attempt from Capitol Nashville to meet a moment, when, instead of receiving yet another EP from Guyton, we should have a full-length album – and we should have had it years ago.
It shouldn’t have to be up to Guyton, currently the only black woman signed to a major label intended to foster a mainstream country music career, to push back against the inherent discrimination still facing the country music industry at large. That change has to start with those in charge, and it has start with us, the listeners, to amplify the issues and stories told by the artists.
If her latest work is any indication, though, Guyton is willing to fight back anyway. “What Are You Gonna Tell Her” could have been released this year or several years ago, sadly, squashing the reality that there exists a system of equal opportunity for everyone. And while that song speaks to the inherent sexism facing country radio, “Black Like Me” asks for empathy from white listeners to understand their privilege and, at the very least, ponder the systemic discrimination black people have faced in America for far too long – written nearly a year ago, but further amplified by the murders of black Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and far too many more.
It’s a heavy listen, but a needed one, and those two aforementioned tracks are the easy highlights here. But the track used to counterbalance the mood, the drinking song “Rosé,” brings a sense of tonal whiplash to the project, only further emphasized by production that can feel lacking and clunky on tracks like that and opener “Heaven Down Here.” “Salt” is a better pivot, especially with the dark, hazy smolder cutting through in the guitar line.
Granted, Guyton’s passion also does a lot of the heavy lifting, and between her technical power and emotional range, it’s about time we recognized her as one of the greatest vocalists currently working in country music. I’m not sold on framing “Heaven Down Here” through the God paradigm on an album about understanding others’ differences, nor do I think the title track’s hook is the right pivot from the heavier, timely subject matter in the verses, but I’ll be damned if Guyton isn’t able to build those bridges anyway and make them feel like pleas to regain some semblance of sanity. It’s a needed listen that couldn’t have come at a more important time.
Recommended tracks: “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?,” “Black Like Me,” “Salt”