REVIEW: Hailey Whitters’ “The Dream” is Silky Homespun Wisdom

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Overnight successes in Americana music aren’t really a thing. Much more frequent is the artist who has a side job or three, or writes and sells songs to other, more established singers, or sidelines their dream altogether and slogs through a job that pays the bills. Roughly a year ago, Iowa-raised and Nashville-based Hailey Whitters released “Ten Year Town,” which touched a nerve with those who’d spent far too long serving their dream while slinging drinks. Now Whitters has a full-length album to complement that tune, The Dream.

Written with Brandy Clark, “Ten Year Town,” in scarcely over three minutes, catalogs every obstacle and indignity your favorite country musician (especially if it’s a she) has encountered in their career – dead-end jobs, shattered hopes, self-doubt and, perhaps worst of all, the less talented leapfrogger – “The new it girl fresh off the bus/She cut right in front of the rest of us.” The tone, though, is more sad than angry, and the music is simple – mostly acoustic guitar and Whitters’ voice.

Fittingly, The Dream was entirely self-funded with money that Whitters earned from waiting tables and selling songs (and, sadly, a favorite guitar). She’s managed to recruit some excellent songwriters to help on the album, and the result is a slickly produced collection of homespun wisdom. “Heartland” (one of six songs also featured on Whitters’ 2019 EP, The Days), finds the singer doubting her itinerant lifestyle – “I should have a little more to show/Than a suitcase smells like smoke.” Are her dreams worth missing out on the stable home-and-family life she also craves? But “Janice At The Hotel Bar” (one of three songs written with Lori McKenna) reminds her (and us) that the straightest path isn’t always the best. In the words of a friendly older woman full of useful advice (and maybe a little bit of red wine): “Go on and make a good livin’ girl, don’t forget/To make a good life.”

One of the most fun tunes on the album is also one of two covers, Chris Stapleton and Al Anderson’s “The Devil Always Made Me Think Twice.” Whitters’ version is loose, bluesy and swampy (as any song about the devil should be). Here, too, she strays from the “good” path (if only just a little) to spice things up: “I knew you were trouble/But you’re just the kind of trouble I crave.” Whitters proves to be open to different feels on the album – “Happy People” has a bit of country swing to it, while “All The Cool Girls” features some 80s-style bop and some questionable decisions: “All the cool girls are wakin’ up/A little sad, still a little drunk.” The album wraps with “Living The Dream,” another McKenna co-write and a piano-based tune where, well, all the dreams aren’t so grand, but they’re what give us “The heartaches, the big breaks, the wrong turns, the mistakes/That lead to the laugh-lines, the highlights, the blessings.” It’s an idea that circles back to the beginning of the album and the last lines of “Ten Year Town”: “This next song could turn it all around.” Whitters may just be beginning to live that dream.

The Dream was produced by Jake Gear and Whitters, recorded by Logan Matheny and Mike Stankiewicz, mixed by Matheny and Drew Bollman and mastered by Pete Lyman. Additional songwriters include Hillary Lindsey, Ben West, Jessie Jo Dillon, Dustin Christensen, Brent Cobb, Erik Dylan, Phillip White, Nicolle Galyon, Forrest Whitehead, Brett Tyler, and Waylon Payne. Additional musicians include Kris Donegan (acoustic and electric guitar, bass, banjo), Jedd Hughes (acoustic and electric guitar), Rob McNelley (electric guitar), Eli Beaird (bass), Ian Fitchuk (keys, piano, organ, drums, percussion), Ben West (programming), Fred Eltringham, and Evan Hutchings (drums and percussion), and Kristen Rogers, Brent Rupard and Payne (background vocals).

Go here to order The Dream and find links for tour info and merch: https://linktr.ee/haileywhitters

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