One of the most underrated singers of the early 2000s was Jamie O'Neal, whose #1 debut smash "There Is No Arizona" remains one of my all-time favorite country songs of that decade. Despite the success of that song and its followup, O'Neal's career was rather sporadic after that, racking up at least two unreleased albums in the process. But starting in 2012, O'Neal launched her own label, Momentum. As of this writing, the only other artist is Rachele Lynae, a name I had not heard until her debut album ended up in my inbox. Sometimes, the best surprises come when I review an unknown, so I figured I'd take it on.
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Lynae's name is on all 12 tracks, with a few co-writes from O'Neal herself, who also produced the album. Her voice is full and expressive, with traces of Carrie Underwood's belting power and Miranda Lambert's tough-girl grit surfacing at times. The production is sturdy and well-varied (although a bit heavy on the vocal filters), and the lyrics, while a bit scattershot at times, possess enough variety to keep even the weaker songs at least somewhat interesting.
Taking the "Anywhere with You" formula of just getting in the car and going somewhere with the one you love, the opener "Touch the Stars" is snappy, catchy, and full of Dobro. The lyrics (co-written with Patricia Conroy and Emerson Drive guitarist Danick Dupelle) don't offer very many details other than having a bonfire party with her friends, but that's ultimately a small complaint for a song with such a feel-good vibe. "Sticky Summer Lovin'" similarly offers a firsthand view of falling hard, deep, and fast in love in the heat of the summer. It may at first read like a checklist of clichés — sunrise, skinny dipping (I like her playfulness on the line "take it off and just jump in."), trucks, and radio — but again, the easy midtempo groove and a few interesting turns of phrase keep it chugging along nicely.
Going back to that party thing, "Party 'til the Cows Come Home" may seem at first to be just another "party in the country" song that the "bro country" genre does so often, and its melody may be a bit derivative of "DONE." by The Band Perry, but there's fun and energy to spare, and it's genuinely interesting to hear a female artist tackle this kind of subject matter. (Oh, and I do have to praise the line "kicking grass and taking names.") "Out on the Floor" is also a party song, but it's more about inviting others to join the party and start dancing, and darn if that catchy beat and fiddle don't make me want to get up. (Or at least I would if my room weren't so dirty.)
Also laying on the Dobro rather heavily (and a pretty tight electric guitar solo), "Words in Red" is a fiery gospel-tinged number about a woman who grew up going to church and, when tempted by sin, thinks of the red words in the Bible. It keeps the color theme cleverly on the chorus: "Sometimes I see the world in black and white / And feel blue where there ain't no light / And shades of gray start clouding up my head / Until I read the words in red." "Clean" takes its church-y themes in a similar direction. Mama calls in her young child to "come on in and get clean," and again when the child is 16 out on her own. Then in the next verse, she has returned to church after an absence, when the preacher offers to "clean" her sins away. While the mom's death at the end doesn't quite fit in with the "clean" theme, the emotion in Lynae's voice brings to mind the softer end of Miranda Lambert's spectrum (think "The House That Built Me").
"Cigarette" compares the temptation of a lover interestingly to, well, a cigarette: Lyrics like "Quick to light and slow to burn / Soothes the pain and brings the hurt" give the song a good start, but unfortunately, the song runs out of material halfway through, resorting to a long bridge full of "oohs" less than two minutes in before rehashing the (admittedly solid) chorus. Similarly, "Sometimes You Fly" has the narrator questioning whether the feelings she's got right now are love. The hook of "Sometimes you fall, sometimes you fly" is obvious, but the song takes an interesting turn in the second verse by filling in a few more details about her putting on clothing that she likes and him "do[ing] the dumbest things to keep [her] laughing" add a bit more color to the song. She plays the opposite tack on "Fishin' for Something," where she rejects a boy's advances with the great line "fishin' for something that ain't in the water" against a backdrop of banjo and Jew's harp. The fishing theme is kept up pretty well throughout, with additional lines about lures and cutting the bait.
"This is what it feels like in the end," she sings softly in "Done Is Done," a song that I could tell just from the title was about a breakup. The rest of the song is an assortment of breakup clichés like "there's nothing left for me to tell you" and "maybe you weren't meant to be the one," but it's nonetheless elevated by Lynae's fine vocals… and the slight twist in the end, where she admits that "I can be alone… I'm strong enough to make it on my own." The last ballad on the album, "Old Fashioned Love," has her wondering if there is anyone out there who just wants love with no strings attached. These two ballads are almost jarringly placed on either side of the fascinating "Two for One Special," where two women both discover that they are being taken advantage of by the same man and seek revenge (namely, tying him to a chair and video taping it).
Rachele Lynae's debut is a solid one. A couple of the songs, such as "Cigarette" and "Clean," never quite reach their full lyrical potential, while others such as "Sometimes You Fly" and "Old Fashioned Love" are dragged down a bit by a few clichéd lines. But songs such as "Touch the Stars," "Party 'til the Cows Come Home," "Fishin' for Something," and "Two for One Special" hint at greatness with their more inspired takes on their themes. Overall, it's another promising debut from an up-and-comer, and I'm glad as ever to get the word out on her.