Tenille Townes’ debut album will make you cry. That much is certain. Just try listening to country lullaby “When I Meet My Maker” without waterworks. According to a Genius annotation written by Townes herself, the Canadian-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter was finished with this spiritual song in under 20 minutes. Songs like these don’t just appear out of thin air during the crowded songwriting roundtable or at a bustling workshop. Songs like “When I Meet My Maker” are born out of solitude and grief—and ample time spent with one’s own swirling thoughts.
Like fellow Americana artists Jason Isbell or Lori McKenna, Townes has the power to convey powerful personal narratives in song and somehow still make you believe the words were about your own life all along. Who hasn’t given some thought to heaven and the likelihood of its existence? About the family members and loved ones hopefully awaiting us above? For Townes, it was memories of her great-grandmother that birthed this song into reality. But it’s her own death Townes is contemplating in these thoughtful three minutes:
When I meet my maker
At the open golden gates
He’s gonna welcome me home
Where eternity awaits
I’m gonna run into his arms
I’m gonna stare into his eyes
The ones that I’ve been seeking
The ones that never left my side
At first glance the lyrics read like a somber hymn, but listen to the delicate song itself and you’re met with the opposite of funereal. There’s hope and beauty in these gentle acoustics, so much so that you’ll nearly forget you’re listening to a country song about death (These aren’t rare, but they’re not always this good—Townes asks about “heaven” again on the equally great “Jersey on the Wall – I’m Just Asking,” about one of her high school classmates who passed away). Townes is so incredibly capable of crafting intimate, moving songs like these, a quality which first became clear upon release of her 2018 single “Somebody’s Daughter,” which joins “When I Meet My Maker” on her lovely debut LP The Lemonade Stand (out now on Columbia). “Somebody’s Daughter” is special for many reasons, the least of which that it’s about a homeless woman and it spent 20 weeks on Billboard’s Hot Country chart. That’s a beautiful thing in and of itself, but it also displayed Townes’ vast capacity for empathy. “I don’t know the reasons why / I’m the one who’s driving by and she’s the one on the corner of 18th Street?” Townes asks. Heartbreaking moments like that lyric are scattered throughout The Lemonade Stand, making it a truly charming debut effort. Tenille Townes just sounds like someone you can trust.
However, you may just get whiplash hearing the excitedly upbeat “Come As You Are,” an inclusive invitation to an eternity of summer parties, directly after “When I Meet My Maker.” Soon you’ll forget you were ever sadly pondering your own mortality and just start to wonder why “Come As You Are” isn’t a 2020 Song of the Summer contender yet. And what’s more comforting than an invite to a summer hangout that says “Come as you are. Just bring yourself. We’ll take care of everything else”? I’m already on my way in flip flops with the remnants of a White Claw 12-pack.
“Holding Out For The One” is equally fun and upbeat, with an added layer of advice: Don’t fall for boys’ bullcrap. As Taylor Swift has conveyed infinite times, men will try to woo you with their charm and convertibles, but you shouldn’t fall for it. Townes sure isn’t. She “ain’t giving my heart to just anyone / I’m holding out for the one.” She channels Swift again with indie-pop number “White Horse” (Swift has a song of the same name on her 2008 album Fearless) and pivots to Brandy Clark-esque earnestness on “Where You Are.” She’s tucked away with a desperado band in a smoky Nashville bar on “I Kept The Roses,” and she’s sitting on country radio gold on the hooky, synth-y “Find You.”
But it’s the tender moments where Townes thrives most. The Lemonade Stand finds her concerned with the people around her more often than not, whether she’s contemplating the unfair and tragic death of a fellow high schooler on “Jersey on the Wall,” offering to be “the firefly in a mason jar / I’ll be a light for you wherever you are” on “Lighthouse” or willing to cross oceans for a partner on “Where You Are.” She cares about people, and, in turn, it’s difficult not to become emotionally invested in this album.
The Lemonade Stand is a good country album just about any way you spin it. But I will end this review as such: Play this woman on the damn radio. It’s a no-brainer. Tenille Townes has the talent and energy that turns country singers into country stars, and it’d be a crime to keep her music hidden under the stupid “women in country” label. She’s so often touted by country radio deejays as their token woman singer in any given playlist, and that’s unfair to both Townes and the thousands of other female country artists just asking to be observed as equals to their male counterparts. How wonderful would it be to find “Holding Out For The One” or “Find You” inescapable on the airwaves? Townes has real estate among Spotify’s most popular country playlists, but I’m still holding out for the day when she reaches superstardom.
Ellen Johnson is an associate music editor, writer, playlist maker, coffee drinker and pop culture enthusiast at Paste. She occasionally moonlights as a film fan on Letterboxd. You can find her tweeting about all the things on Twitter @ellen_a_johnson.