Album Review – “On The Ranch” by Emily Nenni

photo: Alysse Gafkjen

No one would ever volunteer to entertain the desire to make old school honky tonk music as an occupation these days. It is certainly not the easiest path to fame and recreation. That’s how you know whoever does it is from a place of passion. They don’t do it because they want to, necessarily. They do it because it’s in them and it has to come out. That’s not to say they can’t have a good time doing it, and that’s what Emily Nenni’s retro country music does.

Originally from California, Emily felt the call to old school country music so strongly that she dropped everything and moved to Nashville where she didn’t know anyone. A gifted singer and songwriter, she fell into the right crowd around true Nashville country institutions such as Robert’s Western World and Santa’s Pub, making her way onto the former’s stage bringing pastries to bouncers and staff. Today, Emily Nenni has become a mainstay of Nashville’s country music revivalist community and a valued collaborator.

Nenni is not new to the studio. She released a debut album in 2017 and also has a few EPs, but her new album At the ranch is in many ways an opportunity for Emily to step out of the shadows of the east Nashville scene and attempt national recognition with Normaltown/New West Records behind her. Emily believers are hoping this is the album that puts her on the retro country music depth charts, and it just might have the guts to do it.

Like so many younger but older Nashville artists, Emily Nenni creates a neo-traditional style of country music, emulating all the great oldies that much of Music City has forgotten or moved on from. Although Nashville has been Emily Nenni’s base of operations for a few years now, the album was written when she decided to move to her producer Mike Eli’s ranch in Colorado to help out around the place, hence the name, At the ranch.

Nenni will admit she’s not a cowgirl, but she does At the ranch unique in incorporating Western themes into its classic Nashville influences, such as in the opening song “Can Chaser” about female barrel racers. Refusing to be tamed is a recurring theme on the album. Nenni might be a voracious singer with a come here quality, but as she explains via the song “In The Mornin'”, it’s best not to get too attached.

At the ranch is a fun and escapist album, cutting through a cool country vibe and finding melting points with some funky sounds as well as 80s and 90s influences. It’s also fair to characterize the experience as one that leans more on style and finesse than on strong songwriting and tearful moments. It’s a bit more interpretation than authenticity. Emily Nenni would probably agree, looking to set a more playful tone than trying to impress the stuffy Americana crowd. That’s not to say she can’t express something a little deeper and smarter at the right times, like in one of the album’s hidden gems, “The Rooster And The Hen.”

Leaving a string of broken hearts in her wake and bringing a lively enthusiasm to vintage country, Emily Nenni proves that evoking older sounds in new country music doesn’t have to translate into fuddy-duddy sentiment. It can be invigorating and fun, while fulfilling all those old soul requirements for returning to a more rewarding time in country music.

1 1/2 raised guns (7.5/10)

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