Hannah Ellis Displays Layers And Depth With New Album “That Girl”

Say what you will about pop music as a whole, but there’s no denying that Nashville belongs to a new generation of players, and among the sharpest of those players is Hannah Ellis. Her new album is That Girl, and when any of its songs begin to play, its title starts to make a lot of sense. In harmony and lyricism the same tracks like “Somebody Else,” “One of These Days,” “Plans,” “Wine Country,” and “Country Can” communicate layers of personality to the audience in a way that most pop music just isn’t able to anymore. The homespun crooning our leading lady presents the verses with is almost incidental; in spirit and style, she has a crossover appeal that makes her music accessible to fans of rock as much as it is to traditional country music buffs. Compositionally speaking, her techniques tether her career to that of the old guard, but that’s where the throwback energy ends in That Girl – on the instrumental front, this is one of the more forward-thinking works I’ve listened to from a country artist of any age. There’s no pressing stop on the tracklist once you get started, and that’s not been the case with the majority of records I’ve heard so far in 2024.

I love the depth of Ellis’ melodies in the title track and “Replaceable” especially, and overall I think she’s got a sincere and heartfelt vibe. Even in a stacked arrangement like “Country Can” or even something like “Too Much & Not Enough,” she’s so casual and cool at the forefront of the mix that it’s hard to believe this isn’t at least her third studio album. The well-chosen backing band doesn’t lose any of their thunder to Ellis, but there are also never any doubts as to who is in charge around here and who is following the lead of the lyrics. The harmonies between our singer and her melodic backdrop in “Somebody Else,” “Someone Else’s Heartbreak,” “Karma on the Rocks,” and “Us” tell a story almost independent from the verses, but this doesn’t create negative contrast in the underlying narrative of That Girl. Instead, juxtaposition only advances the emotional subtext of every song here, and further adds to the allure of this singer/songwriter’s multifaceted approach to structure.

In slow songs and rousing bucolic jams alike, Hannah Ellis sounds on-point in That Girl, and I have a gut feeling that this isn’t going to be the creative peak of her output in 2024. Her presentation is incredibly elegant in this record, but it’s also not devoid of a significant vulnerability that isn’t possible to offer in a filtrated setting. She has stories to tell, and in everything from “Wine Country” to “One of These Days,” she’s unfurling verses that bind with the beats to make a country-style smorgasbord I haven’t seen or heard rivaled in the past year or so. Ellis is on fire right now, and it’s going to be pretty tough for some of her rivals to keep up.

Chadwick Easton


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