Carly Pearce had a tumultuous year in 2020, seeing both highs — she won her first CMA Award for "I Hope You're Happy Now," her collaboration with Lee Brice — and lows — in July, she filed for divorce from husband Michael Ray, who she wed in October 2019. On Friday, Feb. 19, the Kentucky native wrapped all of those experiences into 29, her newly-released seven-song collection that spans every facet of heartbreak.
"It's no secret what I went through in the last year and a half, so I think people are like, 'How are you so able to put yourself out there?'" Pearce recently told PopCulture.com and other outlets. "But if you really think about it... I came onto the scene telling you about a guy who broke my heart," she continued, referencing her debut single "Every Little Thing." "And I then went on to tell you in 'I Hope You're Happy Now' about how I broke somebody's heart and I needed to tell them I was sorry. And I'm not doing anything differently. I'm honestly just telling my truth, yet again, maybe a little bit more raw than even I knew I could do."
The 30-year-old shared that she got the idea for the project early in quarantine while spending time with her family in Alabama. "Obviously, I knew I had decisions to make long before the world knew," she recalled. "And I was on the phone with a girlfriend talking through some things and I said, 'I think I'm going to have to write a song called "29," make a project around it, the year I got married and divorced.' And she was silent, and she goes, 'Have fun with that.'"
Pearce worked on 29 with Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, and the project was her first without producer busbee, who died in 2019. "I think what's interesting is a lot of these songs were written as this was all unfolding for me in my life," she mused. "And I felt really lucky that I had such strong relationships in these co-writers, to be able to go to them in the ways that they then shared with me that a lot of other artists have. When you're a songwriter first, you have to tell your truth, you have to say it like it is. And I just didn't want to shy away from that."
Leading with the upbeat warning track "Next Girl," 29 takes listeners through Pearce's journey, which is explicitly highlighted in the searingly honest title track, which includes the line, "The year I was gonna live it up / Now I'm never gonna live it down." Elsewhere, the singer shows off her wordplay on the tricky "Liability," delivers a reprimand on "Should've Known Better," accepts the struggle in "Messy" and offers a message of hope on "Day One." There's also a tribute to busbee in "Show Me Around," Pearce's moving imagining of what heaven is like.
"It felt like honesty," she reflected of sharing this new material. "It just felt like owning it. I don't even I don't know how to not be honest... I don't know how to make music that's not authentic to me." Pearce added that authenticity is something she's "always" maintained in her music. "I've always just bled my heart out on a page," she said. "So I'm just being honest because that's how I was raised." You can stream and buy 29 here.