Born and raised in Tennessee and after 6 years working as an Intensive Care nurse, the lure of Nashville’s glitz and glamour proved too strong for Tullahoma’s Laura McCormick. Having seen first-hand the pains of not chasing a dream – McCormick’s father once turned down a promising baseball career in favour of a more secure existence for the family – with her ominously titled debut LP Box Full of Trouble, Laura makes it defiantly clear that this same fate shall not befall her. A set almost tailor-made with all of Nashville’s hallmarked heritage in mind, Box Full of Trouble announces her arrival on the scene with nuance, sincerity and a determination that is sure to get her far.
The nostalgia of Wicked is the first great example. Full of country music’s traditional Southern iconography of freight trains, redemption and heartbreak with angular telecasters that punctuate the narrative perfectly, it’s a great cross-section of everything that makes modern country such a huge industry. Drenched in Tears does much the same with gorgeous 3-part harmonies and a bourgeoning Hammond organ shifting along its tale of lovelorn vulnerability with a squeaky-clean studio sheen. This is somewhat to be expected of a Nashville record though – there isn’t a note out of place and the mixes punch and bite with a precision that’s rarely captured in any other city on earth (and in many cases nowadays, actively avoided).
Mercy however, shows the flipside of McCormick’s songwriting – a strong, ain’t-takin’-none Southern belle who isn’t afraid to tell it how it is atop a stark, bluesy arrangement (complete with a tasty Delta-slide guitar solo) that leaves just the right amount of space for McCormick’s songwriting to really shine. The same toughness is plain for all to see on lead single Feel The Fire which is probably the hardest-rocking track on Box Full of Trouble, fusing muscular riffing/solo work on guitar with the dark piano and irresistible harmonies to great effect.
The subtle, almost-jazz influence in the guitar/piano on One creates a kind of dynamic light and shade that is largely missing from the rest of the hyper-polished southern-fried pop of McCormick’s debut, but it sits perfectly in the tracklist and comes at the perfect point in the album; right before the self-explanatory, supercharged 12-bar-blues of Tuff Chick. Oozing with some of the sassiest delivery of the LP, it’s a mission statement wherein McCormick lists off the reasons she isn’t going to be anyone’s arm-candy any time soon in a fist-pumping slice of honky-tonk rock.
The Wurlitzer-heavy I’m Gonna Break Your Heart is the song from which the record’s title is pulled and Laura’s candid forewarning to anyone considering her as a romantic prospect. Its overall melancholy is wonderfully offset by McCormick’s defiant delivery and leads into the desert-wandering intro of closer Dangerous Eyes. Distant pedal-steel signals the dramatic beginning of the record’s final moment before giving way to the driving rock that underpins the most evocative vocal performance on Box Full of Trouble. In all honesty, if you’re not generally a “country person”, then this record is almost definitely not for you. While the trademark Nashville sheen is in full bloom on every track and McCormick’s songwriting is immediate and honest, it’s the kind of record that serves an intended purpose rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.