Originally born as Carly Cristyne Slusser out of Kentucky, the artist better known as Carly Pearce already vowed as a child that she would become a performer on the Grand Ole Opry one day. Although born with the last name of Slusser, Carly’s personally chosen stage name is based on her grandfather’s last name. For Pearce, she already began to perform at a professional level by the time she was eleven years old, playing as a regular with a bluegrass band. She often performed in church and tent revival shows. When she was fourteen years old, she also performed at an all-boy prison facility.
When she was sixteen years old, she auditioned for Country Crossroads, which is a show that was featured at the Dollywood Theme Park. After earning the job, she convinced her parents to move closer to Dollywood, namely in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. She also dropped out of high school, opting to spend more time at Dollywood as she knew this was a key part of her journey to discover who she is as a person and as an artist. Although she was a high school dropout, she didn’t end her studies as she resorted to homeschooling instead. This online course allowed Pearce to pursue college should the desire and need come about while at the same time continue contributing to the bluegrass country music genre.
Finding Her Way
When she was nineteen years old, Carly Pearce moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to further pursue her country music career. For her, it felt like a roller coaster ride that first saw her 2012 developmental deal with Sony Music fall through when her producer was fired from the label. It almost gave her cause to quit the music industry but she knew deep down she needed to find a way to get back on the horse and move forward. In order to make ends meet, she took a series of part-time jobs.
At the same time, she networked with other performers and executives in the country music industry, hoping her big break would finally materialize. This happened with Pete Fisher, who was the vice president and general manager of the Grand Ole Opry. When she was given the opportunity to perform in 2015 for the Opry, this led her to a developing artist contract with the record producer, busbee.
In 2016, Carly Pearce performed with the group, Josh Abbott Band, for their moderately successful single, “Wasn’t That Drunk.” It peaked as high as number thirty-seven on the US Billboard Country Airplay chart. For Pearce, this gave her the exposure needed on the radio stations to earn some recognition. Despite this, none of the Nashville record labels seemed interested to sign her and she remained with busbee. “Every Little Thing” became an independent release she and busbee had co-written together that picked up radio airplay on a Sirius XM channel.
This earned the needed widespread recognition for Pearce that now had recording labels approaching her instead of her chasing them. She chose to sign with Big Machine Records, who released “Every Little Thing” as an official single in 2017. Her debut album, also named Every Little Thing, received positive reviews by music critics and writers, citing it as a polished example of how a professional recording artist should produce music. It, however, served as a contrast to the bluegrass style of music Pearce had been earlier known for.
Earning Her Dues
Since her big breakthrough in 2017, Carly Pearce has recorded and released a total of three studio albums, an extended play (EP), seven singles, ten promotional singles, and eight music videos. She has also collaborated with artists, namely for the albums of 2007’s Mountain Top Bluegrass Gospel Christmas and 2008’s The Bluegrass Tribute to Taylor Swift. Pearce is best known for her bluegrass musical performances as well as contemporary country.
She credits Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, and Rhonda Vincent as her main influences behind her interest in the bluegrass genre. She’s also been known to throw a hint of electronic and R&B into much of her music material that nearly saw it borderline with the pop charts. This style to her music she has given Faith Hill, Shania Twain, and Trisha Yearwood the influential credit in that regard. In 2021, Dolly Parton invited Carly Pearce to join the cast of the Grand Ole Opry, therefore making Pearce’s childhood dream come true.
Top 10 Carly Pearce Songs
#10 – Cowboy Take Me Away
“Cowboy Take Me Away” was released as a promotional single by Carly Pearce that is actually a Dixie Chicks original from 1999. The playful ode that was inspired by the infamous Calgon slogan not only bubbled its way to the top of the country music charts for the group but made a strong enough impression on a number of artists to come up with their own versions of this song. In 2020, Pearce performed her own version, which so far still remains as a stand alone single.
#9 – Dear Miss Loretta (featuring Patty Loveless)
Included in Carly Pearce’s third studio album, 29: Written in Stone, is a duet performance she shared with Patty Loveless. “Dear Miss Loretta” served as a self-reflective song that revolved around two of the greatest country music performers of all time, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. The vulnerability behind Pearce’s vocal performances as she seems to do more than just wear her heart on her sleeve is what makes her an endearing favorite among her fans.
Although this song didn’t appear on any music charts, it also seemed partially designed as an ode. For her third album, Pearce made it clear she wanted to focus on country music that catered more to traditional styles as opposed to contemporary. It doesn’t get any more traditional and classic than singing for some advice from the great Loretta Lynn herself.
#8 – What He Didn’t Do
“What He Didn’t Do” was a song featured on Carly Pearce’s third studio album, 29: Written in Stone, which was released in 2021. On the US Billboard Digital Songs chart, it peaked at number twenty and became a number forty-three hit on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Break-up songs has been a big part of Pearce’s singing career as she still continues to lay out her brand of truth in a manner that seems to have suited her best. “What He Didn’t Do” served as a song Pearce not only experienced herself as she sang her side of the story but as material many jilted loved ones could find themselves relating to.
#7 – Wasn’t That Drunk (featuring Josh Abbott Band)
In 2016, Carly Pearce was part of the Josh Abbott Band when the single, “Wasn’t That Drunk” was released. On the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, it peaked at number forty-six and was a number thirty-seven hit on the US Billboard Country Airplay. There were two music videos that were shot for this single in 2016. The one featured the group performing the song live before an audience while the other came across as a quick film production. This cute love song has seen itself used as favorite wedding songs shared by newly married couples as if it was their own personal testimony that when they agreed to become husband and wife they were clear-headed enough to do so.
#6 – Closer to You
On the US Billboard Country Airplay chart, “Closer to You” peaked at number twenty eight. On the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, it peaked at number thirty-three and it was a number forty-three hit on the RPM Canadian Country Tracks chart. This took place in 2018 as the lead single from Carly Pearce’s second studio album, which is named after her. The expression of a vulnerable young woman has become a vocal trademark for Carly Pearce since the beginning of her career and continues to play a factor to this day as she continues to record and perform.
#5 – Never Wanted to Be That Girl (featuring Ashley McBryde)
In September 2021, the duet performed by Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde peaked “Never Wanted to Be That Girl” on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart at number twenty-one. On the RPM Canadian Country Tracks chart, the lyrical discussion about infidelity peaked at number five. In the song, Pearce played the role of the wife who learns her husband has been cheating on her. The mistress, performed by McBryde, lyrically shared the news and reality that both women are in love with the same man. The emotional vulnerability both women expressed in this ballad served as a refreshing break from campier versions of cheating songs that sometimes feels like they’re overplayed.
#4 – Hide the Wine
Carly Pearce’s 2017 album brought forth the single, “Hide the Wine,” which became the second major hit for the artist as it peaked at number thirteen on the US Billboard Country Airplay chart in 2018, as well as on the RPM Canadian Country Tracks chart. On the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, it climbed as high as number twenty-one. With the RIAA, “Hide the Wine” became certified gold.
For Pearce, when she learned about “Hide the Wine” she wanted to record the song before she even had a signed contract. When another artist declined to sing it, Pearce snatched it up and recorded it. She wanted “Hide the Wine” to be released as a follow up single behind the slower-paced “Every Little Thing” as a stark contrast. “Hide the Wine” was a country song tale of having too much to drink, then go against one’s better judgment by calling up a former love interest.
#3 – Next Girl
“Next Girl” earned a gold certification from the RIAA as well as Music Canada after it was released as a single in 2020. On the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart it was a number three hit and on the US Billboard Hot 100 at number eighty-six. “Next Girl’ was more popular in Canada as it charted as high as number two on the RPM Canadian Country Tracks chart and at number fifty-five on its pop chart. It came from her third studio album, 29: Written in Stone, as another musical piece about the artist’s personal life experiences that led her to where she is today.
For Pearce, the inspiration behind “Next Girl” came from the desire to bring forth a more traditional country song, wanting material that sounded more like something a 1990s country starlet would perform. “Next Girl” saw Pearce issue a warning about a man that knew how to say all the right things in order to win over his next girlfriend.
#2 – Every Little Thing
At the time, a struggling Carly Pearce independently released “Every Little Thing” in 2016 before Big Machine Records signed her up and had it officially released in 2017 to more than just a satellite radio station. It became a number five hit on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and a number one hit on the US Billboard Country Airplay chart. It sold enough copies to earn Pearce her first gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), thanks to the heartbreaking vulnerability she poured into the lyrics.
With the 2018 Country Music Television (CMT) Awards, this single earned a Breakthrough Video of the Year win as it brought all that emotionalism to the screen in a manner that could have made it Oscar-worthy if it was a full-length motion picture.
#1 – I Hope You’re Happy Now (featuring Lee Brice)
The duet, “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” featured Carly Pearce and Lee Brice earning a number one hit on the US Billboard Country Airplay chart and on the RPM Canadian Country Tracks chart. On the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, it peaked at number five and it was a number twenty-seven hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. In 2020, “I Hope You’re Happy Now” won Single of the Year and Musical Event of the Year with the Academy of Country Music Awards. In 2021, Pearce was recognized by the Country Music Association Awards as Female Vocalist of the Year.
The breakup song featured the two singers telling their side of the story that spawned the split, which was based on material revolving Pearce’s own relationship experiences. In 2018, she met and fell in love with country singer Michael Ray, marrying him in October 2019, the same month “I Hope You’re Happy Now” was released. Eight months later, the couple divorced. This was the final track, along with Carly Pearce’s self-titled album, was the last produced by busbee before he died from a brain tumor before the entire recording project was completed. This was also the most successful single for Pearce so far as it earned a double platinum certification from the RIAA and a gold certification from Music Canada.
Feature Photo: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock
Top 10 Carly Pearce Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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