Album Review: Natalie Hemby’s ‘Puxico’
Natalie Hemby is the songwriter behind many popular country songs including Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic,” Little Big Town’s “Pontoon” and Justin Moore’s “You Look Like I Need a Drink.” After nearly a decade of writing for others, Hemby has decided it’s time to release an album of her own.
“I spent my 20s trying to land a record deal, and most of my 30s writing for other people,” she says. “It’s time to put out my own record. Maybe I’m a late bloomer, or maybe it’s just finally the right time to bloom.”
The singer/songwriter is giving country fans a taste of who she is as an artist on her nine-track debut, Puxico. Written about her grandfather’s hometown of Puxico, Missouri, the album has Hemby focused on the way she was raised as well as the shared tales of her family. Much like songwriters turned artists Brandy Clark and Lori McKenna before her, Hemby’s ability as a songwriter is shown on every track with vivid imagery. The country and roots based album also allows Hemby’s voice to shine and puts her rightfully at the forefront where she belongs.
While rollicking album opener “Time Honored Tradition” sounds like a track Lambert would cut, Hemby impresses with her laidback singing style as she describes life as a troubadour before finding comfort in the city of Puxico. A kindred town filled with good company, it is one where the “first one you meet is a trusted friend” and a “glass is never half empty.”
Later, the poetic ballad “Cairo, IL” paints a similar picture of a small town where some dream of raising a family while others fantasize about leaving. On this track, Hemby’s airy vocals are accompanied by delicate pedal steel. “Ferris Wheel” follows suit and is one of the standout tracks on the LP. A metaphor for life, Hemby likens the ride to the ups and downs we all go through. “Just when you think you know how it ends, it turns you in circles back to the beginning again.” She continues, “the view is better when it’s all up in the air.”
Meanwhile, Hemby strikes a chord on the beautiful piano-based “I Remember How You Loved Me.” It’s a song that brings to mind Maya Angelou’s famous quote of how “people will never forget how you made them feel.” Hemby sings of memories she can’t seem to recall and when these moments are long since forgotten, she’ll still remember how she was loved.
“When the details turn to dust and the words get worn and frayed and the past is trapped in photographs till our last day / I’ll remember how you loved me,” she sings.
An album that celebrates family, Puxico is a retrospective of the past. While Hemby’s life is at the heart of the album, it’s not just her story, but the listeners’ as well. Each of the nine songs embody relatable characters found in all of our lives. All the while, she creates a new path for herself within the country genre and one that is distinctly her own.