Hot on the heels of her landmark UK live debut at this year’s C2C Country To Country Festival comes “Raised”, the follow-up to her 2020 breakthrough album “The Dream”. Here’s what Cait Watters has to say…
‘Raised’ is the album that Hailey Whitters was always meant to make.
Dropping just days after shows in Glasgow, Dublin and London as part of Country 2 Country, the sophomore release has high standards to meet from its predecessor. The Dream, a self-funded debut released in 2020, rightly found itself on multiple year-end best of lists. Bafflingly, Whitters is still somewhat under the radar.
After spending a few hours with Raised, I can’t see that being the case for much longer.
For all the fans about to board the Hailey Whitters train, this is a fantastic first port of call. Hell, it’s almost as if she’s predicted this herself. ‘This record is where I’m from, this is me. It feels like the prequel to The Dream,’ the lady herself has said. And it is. Here, through seventeen stops, we delve into the smalltown songstress’ life and where she grew up, the Midwest. It doesn’t matter where listeners themselves come from – there’s still a deep relatability about it all.
Ironically, it didn’t feel that way when I first booted up the opener, ‘Ad Astra Per Alas Porci’. I’m in my twenties, I’m from Scotland. I don’t know a lick of Latin. I appreciated the track for what it was, a beautiful classical arrangement that, perhaps, seemed a little out of place on a country record. I did, however, make a mental note to look up what this phrase meant later, not wanting to interrupt my listening experience. When I did type those words into a certain faithful search engine? I smiled…I’ll come back to that shortly, don’t worry.
The title track follows, grounding us back in the familiarity of the country realm. I love this gentle little number about a wild heart, a reckless soul. It’s Whitters introducing herself, letting us know that it’s not her fault she’s like this – it’s just how she was ‘Raised’.
‘Everything She Ain’t’ builds on this, telling a tale of jealousy as she sees her crush pining over this seemingly perfect girl. Not everyone will have grown up in a town of some seven hundred people like Whitters but so many of us have felt this pressure, the need to be perfect – a pressure that this song says to screw and to embrace who you are instead.
Boasting a hefty seventeen tracks, an initial glance at such a long tracklist may raise worries about this being cumbersome with potential for pacing issues. Raised suffers from no such thing, clocking in at just under forty-five minutes, feeling enough yet also leaving you wanting more.
‘The Neon’ brings us to the glow of a bar after a break-up. We’ve been there before, we’ve heard this story over and over again in a genre famous for heartbreak. She even acknowledges it, singing ‘here comes the neon, here comes the sad part’. Those lines form a hooky chorus, one that you’ll be singing along to even if you – luckily – can’t relate to the tale.
Speaking of boasting, the writing credits feature some familiar names. Whitters has a hand in almost all tracks here, with help from the likes of Lori McKenna, Nicolle Galyon and Hillary Lindsey to name just a few. There’s also a collab with American Aquarium on ‘Middle of America’. That caliber of collaboration, alone, makes this spinworthy.
Would it be a country album without a little smoking and drinking? Whitters features both, with tracks ‘Our Grass is Legal’ and ‘Beer Tastes Better’. The former is entirely self-penned, featuring some gorgeous choir action while singing about how simple life is out in the sticks. The latter, once more, continues that theme of home and home comforts, about longing for grander adventures that will never quite compare to the home comforts of where you come from.
Whitters is a storyteller. She’s pieced this album together purposefully and masterfully. With interludes and a little track that is, essentially, a scene (‘The Grassman’), she forces you to listen to the album the way you’re meant to. In order, all at once – that feels like the only way you can here, and it’s not a chore to do so.
‘Ad Astra Per Alas Porci’. The opening number that is reprised to close out the record. I told you I was going to circle back to that Latin phrase. In English? ‘To the stars on the wing of a pig’. Pigs still may be lacking the power of flight but Whitters doesn’t need them – she’s going to reach those heights all by herself.
Hailey Whitters – Raised – Track list
- Ad Astra Per Alas Porci (Jordan Lehning, Pedro Palomino)
- Raised (Hailey Whitters, Nicolle Galyon, Forest Glen Whitehead)
- Everything She Ain’t (Hailey Whitters, Bryan Simpson, Ryan Tyndell)
- Big Family (Hailey Whitters, Cameron Bedell, Nicolle Galyon)
- Middle of America (feat. American Aquarium) (Hailey Whitters, Bobby Pinson)
- Plain Jane (Hailey Whitters, Hillary Lindsey, Cary Barlowe)
- College Town (Hailey Whitters, Nicolle Galyon, Jimmy Robbins)
- Interlude (Hailey Whitters, Pedro Palomino)
- Boys Back Home (Hailey Whitters, Brandy Clark, Jessie Jo Dillon)
- Everybody Oughta (Matt Roy, Craig Wiseman)
- Pretty Boy (Hailey Whitters, Scooter Carusoe, Tom Douglas)
- The Neon (Hailey Whitters, Rodney Clawson, Lori McKenna)
- The Grassman (Hailey Whitters, Aaron Raitiere)
- Our Grass Is Legal (Hailey Whitters)
- Beer Tastes Better (Hailey Whitters, Lori McKenna)
- In a Field Somewhere (Hailey Whitters, Jeff Hyde, Bryan Simpson)
- Ad Astra Per Alas Porci (Reprise) (Jordan Lehning, Pedro Palomino)
Produced by Jake Gear & Hailey Whitters.
Photos – Harper Smith