If you search to find the songwriting credits of your favorite songs, it’s undeniable that you’ll come across Natalie Hemby’s name. Having co-penned hits like “Rainbow” by Kacey Musgraves, “Pontoon” by Little Big Town, and “White Liar” by Miranda Lambert, Hemby has solidified herself as one of the most critically acclaimed forces in Nashville’s songwriting scene. Her songs have also been recorded by artists outside of the country genre by artists like Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga, and Alicia Keys. Even though she’s written for a variety of artists and garnered eight number one songs, Hemby herself had only released one record as a solo act in 2017 with Puxico: a brilliant LP dedicated to her grandparent’s hometown. She expands her personal collection with her brand new record Pins and Needles.
The album opens with the twangy “Heroes,” a song about not wanting to meet your idols because they might ruin the image you made of them. The second verse goes, “Out of my reach and in my mind / They’re shooting stars and saving lives / Don’t know what’s real and what’s made up / Get too close, it’s close enough / I can look but I can’t touch / And that’s fine.” The lyrics are frank and honest and taps into the adage that meeting the people you look up to will always be a letdown. A strangely relatable thing for anyone who’s passionate about anything. Hemby taps into a very human experience right from the start.
Track number two, “New Madrid,” begins with a refreshing, high-tempo acoustic guitar. Hemby’s vocals sound rustic as she references the New Madrid Seismic and uses it as a metaphor for the ever-growing distance between two people. Despite the upbeat nature, the lyrics, especially the opening line, is a strike to the heart as she sings, “Been so long since I’ve felt something / Touch of wind, eyes full of tears / There’s a silence yet I hear the low humming / And a heart that hasn’t moved in years.” The writing is delicate and sadly scenic as Hemby does an exquisite job of using simple yet destructive metaphors of an earthquake; she uses words like “rift,” “tragic,” and “faultline” to describe the disconnect between humans.
Hemby gets to show off her more sassy side with “Hardest Part About Business” which stands out with a heavy banjo instrumental. In the repeating chorus, she sings, “The hardest part about business is minding your own.” The title track, “Pins and Needles,” written by Hemby alongside TJ Osborne and John Osborne of Brothers Osborne, is also spunky as she sings with an attitude over dark piano pulses.
Another highpoint is, “Banshee,” a number she wrote with superstar Miranda Lambert. It opens with whistling sounds and has a vintage, old-school feel to it. “Banshee” plays out like a black and white film as Hemby’s hazy vocals tell a haunting, imaginative story of a banshee: a female spirit from Irish folklore that preludes death. The lyrics are dripping in vivid description as she exclaims, “Alone on her wedding day, 1878 / Same bells ringing through the church / Blue eyes and auburn hair / She thought he was standing there / Cause mine’s a dead ringer for her.” The song has beguiling background vocals and a rock edge with bustling drum beats and electric guitars.
Hemby shows off a softer side on the second half of Pins and Needles. “Radio Silence” documents a failing relationship when suddenly stops communicating. In the chorus, she sings desperately, “I tried to reach you through the growing static / I tried to replicate the fading magic / Did everything to keep the signal from dying/ All I got was radio silence.” Track eight, “Heart Condition,” was written by Hemby and fellow contemporary country artist Maren Morris. Its instrumental is light-hearted with subtle steel guitars as Hemby shows off the higher part of her vocal range.
The closer is fittingly titled “Last Resort.” It has a breezy-sounding sense of comfort as she sings in the second verse, “In desperation, please remember me / When hell burns brighter, I’ll put out the fire / That burns into bad memories.” The lyrics here feel snug and welcoming yet deep and profound as her vocals seem to reach out and give solace like a crackling fire during a winter storm. Hemby’s dazzling musical prowess is undeniable; her songwriting feels natural and even more empowering coming from her own voice.
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