Country singer Erin Viancourt – in true Nashville tradition – arrived slowly and then all at once. Her songwriting and early releases like 2019’s “Playin’ Old Records” and 2020’s “Cowgirl” showed enough promise to help her become the first artist signed to Cody Jinks‘ new label, Late August. If she piqued listeners’ interest, it’s taken a few more years of touring and recording to put out a major statement. With her debut album, Won’t Die This Way, Viancourt takes a significant step forward, mixing an array of traditional country sounds with her particular aesthetic (largely reliant on her vocal control).
Won’t Die This Way opens with “Cheap Paradise”, an easygoing ode to a simple life. Country music has more than enough songs about the pleasures of jukeboxes, “a muddy riverbank”, and a “cloud of smoke”, but Viancourt renders her heaven on earth with a specificity that prevents it from falling into the standard traps. Her paradise isn’t a generic country music ideal, but her particular location. The song establishes Viancourt as an artist. She doesn’t break new ground, but she works very well and personally within the genres she follows. It makes perfect sense when she cites Jerry Jeff Walker as a primary influence, yet she never sounds like a disciple.
Viancourt also brings up Patsy Cline as an influence, and that point suggests a source for her vocal work. While she moves across genres – most notably honky tonk and outlaw – she maintains a careful artistry with her singing. She never sounds put on, and the grit in songs like “Straight Down the Barrel” gives each track an immediacy. She knows how to be delicate and rock without overdoing any moment, with a deft touch and consideration of phrasing defining each song.
Those songs mostly warrant attention. “Crazy in My Mind” uses a clever approach and a honky tonk sound to take a memorable look at personal and interpersonal struggles. “Might Die This Way” uses its title not to fall into despair but to recognize trouble and rally; Won’t Die This Way‘s title comes from this track and supports rather than subverts the feelings here. “Beautiful Night for Goodbye” uses a steel guitar and gentle folk music to say farewell. It makes a fitting close to the record, Viancourt asserting her independence and worth with a touch of regret but plenty of fortitude.
That sort of nuanced take helps define the album, and Won’t Die This Way, in turn, creates a solid introduction for Viancourt as an artist. The sentiments expressed are full-blown but carefully sculpted and not without a broader awareness. The single “Should’ve Known Better” captures this sensibility. Viancourt regrets a recently ended relationship, realizing she should have seen the warning signs. She also recognizes the good parts of it and doesn’t dismiss herself in the process of regret. The breakup isn’t about shame or foolishness but about carefully taking stock and moving on with confidence. She wraps it in classic production and a catchy melody. It’s traditional without being redundant, and its concreteness adds to its accessibility. It feels distinctly like a Viancourt number and, like the rest of the tracks here, suggests plenty of good music to come.