As Taylor Swift leaps full on into pop, there’s been something of a sea change burbling in country music’s undercard in 2014, with many artists shifting outside the polished commercial country machine and creating their best music yet. Take Jessica Lea Mayfield, who tosses out her wistful alt-country for smoldering, grunge bangers on Make My Head Sing… Or Hurray For The Riff Raff, which on “The Body Electric” reinvents the classic murder ballad with a clever feminist critique. Or, Sturgill Simpson, whose remarkable Metamodern Sounds In Country Music blends a traditional twangy croon with existential cosmic ruminations and mind-altering drugs.
Similarly, Lydia Loveless brings a punky edge and an emotionally charged candor to country music with her fantastic album, Somewhere Else. Within her rowdy, countrified rockers, the young Columbus, Ohio singer-guitarist writes about many of her self-destructive tendencies — from drunkenly calling up an ex to break up his marriage (“Really Wanna See You”), to bleary-eyed late night stewing over past lovers (“Head” ), to referencing and relating to doomed 19th-century French poets (“Verlaine Shot Rimbaud”). As romantically stormy and sexually frank as Loveless can be, her lyrics never feel overly sensationalistic. Instead, Somewhere Else presents a bold songwriter willing to scratch at her flaws and regrets, and allow herself to look bad. It’s all the more relatable and potent for it.