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Every week, we tell you about a new album we think you should spend time with. This week’s album is Cam’s Untamed.
2015 was yet another year where the country charts were dominated by an army of dudes in tanktops singing about partying. I am of the opinion that that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you’d have to be a complete moron to argue that country isn’t desperately in need of more female voices. A moron like this radio programmer who said that women in country music are the “tomatoes” of a salad, which I’m not sure I even understand, because salads are the worst, tomatoes or not.
I’m not going to say Cam’s Untamed is a corrective to the bros, because it’s not going to be. Her label buried it when they released it on December 11, also known as “the last week anyone on earth is thinking of new music till January.” Which is unfortunate, because it’s got a great breadth of songwriting variety (Cam co-wrote every song here) and, for my money, the best non-Fetty Wap ballad of 2015: “Burning House.” The album hit number two on the country charts before starting its descent, but it seems destined to be discovered throughout this year as secretly one of last year’s best country albums.
“Burning House” is the cornerstone of Untamed, and Cam’s CMT countdown ubiquity. I don’t want to diminish its power through rote comparison, but it’s basically the best Fleetwood Mac song since 1983. A ballad about a love lost, Cam envisions running into her ex at a house party, and how post-breakup life feels like sleepwalking. It’s a song that can gut you a different way each time you listen to it; from Cam’s lilting vocals, to the lyrics, to the way the arrangements swell and collapse. It’s a stunning single, and it rightfully helped get Untamed released.
Jon Caramanica floated an idea in the recent episode of the NY Times Popcast that women in country seem like they’re allowed to go and make the records they want to make, because labels aren’t sure of what makes a hit for the women on their roster like they are with their stable of male performers. This has led to artists like Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, and Maddie and Tae releasing some of the best country albums of recent memory.
I’m not sure how the recording process of Untamed went, but that theory seems borne out here. I can’t imagine, say, Tyler Farr, being allowed to do Fleetwood Mac balladry into funky barroom tell-offs (“Country Ain’t Never Been Pretty”), into strummy Wild West chooglers (“Runaway Train”). Untamed runs a gamut of genres within country in a way that isn’t done often anymore, at least on a country album financed by a major label (Eric Church is maybe the only guy who runs the country stylistic breadth that Cam does here).
Cam is at her best, and most poignant, when she’s ruminating on heartbreak. “Half Broke Heart” examines how even minor, short term relationships can mess you up, while “Mayday” compares getting out of a relationship with having to abandon a ship. She isn’t kidding when she says she’s “Hungover on Heartache.”
The first week of January is always a good time to examine the things you didn’t give the appropriate time last year. Untamed is a perfect candidate for that, and not just because it was only out for three weeks in 2015. It’s an assured debut from a bright newcomer. Do yourself a favor and stream it below:
Andrew Winistorfer is Senior Director of Music and Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard, The Story of Willie Nelson, Miles Davis: The Electric Years and The Story of Waylon Jennings. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.