Kelleigh Bannen has a gift for saying as much in between the lines of her songs as she does in her lyrics. She exhibits this on her debut studio album Favorite Colors, built on a foundation of her distinct attention to detail as a songwriter.
Co-writing all 14 tracks, the up-and-coming artist is a bold songwriter who doesn’t hold back in her storytelling. She greets us with her smoky, soulful voice reminiscent of Sara Evans on the gritty “Deluxe.” A swampy melody of electric guitar and drums immediately set the tone as Bannen introduces herself as a deeply observant songwriter, putting the listener directly in the passenger seat next to her as she pulls off exit 105 and into the parking lot at an old motel where the sign advertises “AC and cable TV,” using the no-frills establishment as a metaphor of her idea of a “deluxe” love. She continues to dive into a pool of detail on “Your Favorite Colors,” using images of a gold sunset and luscious green baseball field to draw a portrait of someone she knows at the core, from his father’s middle name to every dream he’s aspired for. But the one element she can’t determine is “where love goes when it’s gone” and wondering what happened to theirs when it ended.
Bannen covers expansive ground across the album, whether mixing grit and soul into “Faith In You” where she owns up to bad habits, but is thankful for the person who anchors her; chronicles a couple who stays together long past their expiration date in “Sleeping Alone;” uses the soulful “Diamonds” to unabashedly proclaim that “diamonds are the way I get stoned”; and adds a dose of humor with her carefree spirit on the co-existing anthem “The Joneses.”
But nowhere is it more apparent of what a compelling songwriter she is than on one of the album’s most powerful numbers, “Happy Birthday.” The song sees all of Bannen’s walls coming down as she shares an honest message with her ex on his birthday. In between asking if his grandmother sent a card with a $20 bill and if his nephews called him to sing the day’s signature song, she conveys the feeling of knowing she made a mistake. “I learned a little too late, you know what they say, I can’t have my cake and love you too,” she sings sincerely. It’s here she reinforces the notion of reading in between the lines as she issues an apology for throwing him a party the year before, even though she knows he hates surprises. While the first “I’m sorry” feels like a lighthearted nod to the memory, it’s the reprise of these two words that carries the weight of her sorrow and regret, demonstrating her natural ability to pen a song dripping in vulnerability and deliver the emotion that encompasses it.
Though she ends the album on a somber note with “Long Shadow,” using a haunting cello and piano to weave a melodic tapestry that painfully explores her inability to escape the darkness of the past, she leaves us with gripping words she so eloquently conveys, a theme that’s consistent throughout the project.
Favorite Colors is a vital step for Bannen as she continues to evolve as a noteworthy artist with a pen as sharp as her mind. Across 14 songs, she solidifies herself as one of Nashville’s best songwriters with a distinct voice and lyrical prowess to match, proving that our favorite colors are the ones she paints her stories with.