As a writer on some of the most gorgeous, forlorn tracks recorded by Lee Ann Womack (“Last Call”) and Alan Jackson (“Monday Morning Church”), singer-songwriter Erin Enderlin has become a go-to for those seeking intelligent, sturdy storytelling framed in traditional country instrumentation.
On her new album, Whiskeytown Crier, out Friday (Sept. 1), she brings her own voice to the broken marriages, waning love, and various betrayals of the characters she’s created in the fictional community of Whiskeytown, all of whom eventually become a headline in the Whiskeytown Crier, she tells MusicRow.
Enderlin, who worked with Jamey Johnson and Jim “Moose” Brown on the album, which is a follow-up to 2013’s I Let Her Talk, credits Johnson with the idea to approach the record as a concept album.
“He was joking that the album sounded too sad and he thought the album needed context for that. He was like, ‘Well, what if it was this one town and it was like a newspaper? The Whiskeytown Crier that knits all these sad souls together.’”
From the opening citation from John Scott Sherill, the album contains a double shot of family drama and murder on “Caroline” and “Baby Sister,” before combing through the trials of various characters, all drowned with copious amounts of alcohol and clever turns of phrases on tracks like “Whole Nother Bottle Of Wine” and “The Coldest In Town.”
Enderlin’s lone solo write on the album, “Broken,” is also one of Whiskeytown Crier’s most remarkable tracks, as it traces two young lovers from rough home lives, and the heart-wrenching decision a young mother makes to make sure certain those coping mechanisms aren’t passed on to her son.
“When I was in high school I was part of a peer mentoring group for at-risk kids who were just a bit younger than us,” Enderlin says. “It really opened my eyes about a lot of things that young adults struggle with. Hearing their story and the stories of their parents really stuck with me. I think there was a lot of all of that in my own life that got poured into that character.”
Chris Stapleton, who at one time lived in an apartment downstairs from Enderlin in Nashville’s Green Hills area, lends his vocals to “Caroline” and “His Memory Walks On Water,” which finds a daughter willing herself to overlook her late father’s addiction.
“Chris lived in a bachelor apartment downstairs that shared a kitchen and living room and I rented the room upstairs,” Enderlin recalls. “I could hear him sing through the air conditioning vents at night and I was like, ‘People are not going to believe [he] is real life.’ I already thought he was superstar back then. He was already getting cuts and things and he was kind enough to come in and sing some harmonies on the album.”
Enderlin duets with Randy Houser, whom she calls one of the greatest country singers we have out there right now, on “Coldest In Town.” “He knows how to put the hurt on something,” Enderlin says.
Though Whiskeytown Crier releases Friday, the album originates in 2010, when Enderlin took money she earned from co-writing Womack’s “Last Call,” with Shane McAnally, and invested it in making an album.
“That has been my dream since moving here,” Enderlin says. “I got a little carried away and cut enough songs for two albums. I was out on the Willie Nelson Country Throwdown Tour, and I needed something to sell so I ended up needing to do an EP off of what I cut. After that, things kind of got put on hold for a while but it’s really special to me so I wanted to have it come out and I think this is really good timing.”
Enderlin credits Johnson and Brown with the courage to sample from the catalogs of Tammy Wynette and Gram Parsons. She covers Wynette’s classic “’Til I Can Make It On My Own,” and Gram Parsons’ 1968 signature “Hickory Wind.”
“Gram Parsons wrote and recorded that himself, but Emmylou Harris is one of my favorite artists and I love her version of that song (from Harris’ 1979 album Blue Kentucky Girl),” Enderlin says. “I thought it was really cool because Emmylou cuts a lot of songs from other artists she loves, so it made me feel like she would be cool with that.
“When Jamey asked me to start naming songs that I loved, “’Til I Can Make It On My Own” was one of the first. But I was like, ‘I would never cut that because Tammy recorded it. You can’t beat her.’ Jamey said, ‘…so, that’s gonna be the one you do.’”
Whether Enderlin is singing an original or newly interpreting a classic, perhaps the characters and stories in Whiskeytown come across so well because Enderlin herself is a student of classic American raconteurs such as William Faulkner.
“I remember the first time I read As I Lay Dying, when I realized he kept changing the characters,” Enderlin says. “The same person was writing the story, but he changed the words and somehow gave voice to a whole different person. Or it’s like when actors—especially for an intense part—will write out a whole biography for their character to draw from. That’s what I try to do. I have this whole story in my head and I hope that in that three minutes, the story makes sense and people get what I’m saying.”
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