Ingrid Andress was just behind the scenes, and then suddenly she was here. First there were the appearances on The Sing-Off – a fact likely to become a footnote in her career. Next came the songwriting. Andress wrote not only with artists in her native country genres but also in pop. Her credit for Charlie XCX’s “Boys” might be her most noteworthy writing, but she’s also worked with artists like Alicia Keys and Sam Hunt. Last summer was the breakthrough, as her single “More Hearts Than Mine” reached the top five on Billboard’s country charts and demonstrated staying power throughout the fall. Then we waited. Finally, Andress has her proper debut, Lady Like, an album finding similar success through a combination of songwriting craft and distinctive sound.
“More Hearts Than Mine” serves as the emotional center of the album. Andress’ talk of bringing a boyfriend home to meet the family delivers rare honesty and concern while avoiding the maudlin. It’s a standard topic, but one that connects easily to listeners. On the radio, the song has a sort of pull-the-car-over impact. Across the course of the album, it stands out, but it also fits as part of a bigger, complex image that Andress creates.
The album opens and closes with strong statements. “Bad Advice” begins with some unexpected strings before Andress sings of going to “Trader Joe’s, straight to aisle five / Got a bottle of merlot.” The tone and humor surprises in juxtaposition with the music. Andress turns it all back to her eternal heartache, well-matched now with the steel guitar. The disc ends with the single “Lady Like”, a cut about defying gender expectations. Tequila replaces the merlot for this one. The chorus fits in with contemporary pop anthems, but it never loses its distinctness.
Part of that distinctness comes from Andress’ clear lyrical voice; her collaborative writing consistently expresses a single vision rather than scattershot teamwork. The rest of it comes from her aptly finding her sound at the intersection of Nashville country, broader Americana, and pop. Andress arrives ready to crossover without having ceded any stylistic ground. Andress (and presumably Sam Ellis as co-producer, guitarist, and frequent co-writer) create a sound that’s spacious enough to allow the thoughtful instrumentation to be effective. They don’t tinker. Lady Like stands as the realization of a particular vision consistently delivered.
That sonic coherence supports Andress’ meditations on diverse topics with a unifying thread. Emotions, she finds, are hard. She writes about directing people away from her actual feelings (“Life of the Party”), trying to reconnect (“The Stranger”), and the desire to deaden emotion (“Anything But Love”). Andress reveals herself as solid in her identity even if she’s torn in her moments. The half-hour of music leads us through a series of photographs that tell us quite a bit.
But those 30 (or fewer) minutes. Andress gives us eight songs here, making for a welcome introduction instead of a full statement. The runtime itself isn’t objectionable in itself (check your old LPs and punk albums), but it feels as if she’s put just enough more than an EP to make it a full-length album. The brevity gives it a sense of a conversation interrupted. It might not be a fair complaint – a short, interesting conversation beats a long, dull one – but the disc feels like a set-up for a true classic when it’s almost one itself. The solution, of course, is simple: play the album twice in a row and hope the follow-up album doesn’t take too long to arrive.