Charlie Rich called them life's little ups and downs, but the details that animate country music are often more ambiguous twists and turns. What happens in the most memorable songs is not always tragic, and not always out of the teller's control. This is especially true when it comes to the young bunch of women singer-songwriters currently refreshing the genre. Miranda Lambert's hits reconcile homey values with the urge to lean in or just take off. Ashley Monroe sings of mistakes confronted and transcended with clear-eyed equanimity. Kacey Musgraves and Angaleena Presley examine how shifting values affect women wandering away from their families' norms. Now, Aubrie Sellers joins that elite crew with a song that starts out heartwarming but soon turns into the existential testament of a heartbreaker.
Sellers comes to this squad of independent ladies with a pedigree – she's the daughter of the tradition-minded country standard-bearer Lee Ann Womack, and the bluegrass-connected singer and songwriter Jason Sellers. Her stepdad, Frank Liddell, is one of Nashville's hottest producers. On this first single from her upcoming debut album, New City Blues, Liddell frames Sellers' tough but vulnerable vocal in an arrangement with a rock base but a high lonesome undertone. The twist? She loves the guy whose sweetness she's celebrating...and leaves him. "Too bad the keys are swingin' off the steering wheel tonight," she wails, sounding just sorry enough to know what she's willingly rejecting.
Written with Brent Cobb, who gave Luke Bryan one of his best ballads ("Tailgate Blues"), "Loveless Rolling Stone" has a rock edge that puts Sellers in the company of other young genre-defiers like Jason Isbell. There's no denying the vocal affinity with Womack – like her mother, Sellers has a gift for yearning, an indelible tinge of sadness in her sass. But this song is less redolent of regret than of determination: "Once you leave, you can't go back," Sellers sings in the chorus, hitting one of those tender notes that's made her a favorite singing partner of Lambert, David Nail and even bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley. But then her tone toughens up, and she follows the crunch of a rock guitar across the blacktop she's making her home. Her sadness is the result of a choice she fully owns: that confidence is the mark of a free-spirited millennial, but also the legacy Sellers owns, of country's commitment to voicing real people's choices.
New City Blues is out in January 2016 on Carnival Records/Thirty Tigers.
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