Whether thanks to increasingly shallow lyrics detailing the well-worn clichés of the redneck lifestyle, or the sudden novelty status awarded to some of the genre’s most trusted instrumentation, mainstream country music has undoubtedly taken a dark turn within the last twenty years. And while the term “indie” has become an interchangeable prefix for any genre that you can name, indie country has become a beacon of hope for those who respect and recognize country music’s roots.

Last Tuesday, 2/4/14, saw the release of singer-songwriter Carter Hulsey‘s latest effort, Drive Out. The eight track album is a slight departure from the Joplin musician’s previous releases with a distinct focus on Hulsey’s strengths as a lyricist and songwriter.

Drive Out plays like a breath of fresh air at a time when music all but screams your name to get your attention.  Throughout its eight tracks, the album benefits from sparse, almost minimalist, instrumentation that exists only when it needs to. When you hear a banjo or mandolin on the album, it’s there to strengthen the track and never for the novelty.  And it’s refreshing.

The record opens with its current single, “NPR”, and the track features what may be the boldest instrumentation on the album. Fortunately, it benefits from that distinction by grabbing your attention immediately and providing accessibility to the rest of the record.

One of the album standouts for me is “Making Napalm”. No track illustrates Drive Out‘s delicate relationship of music and lyrics better. The music plays almost exclusively as Hulsey sings, creating a natural cadence that almost forces you to breathe along with the track, holding your breath for the next line. The song also features some of my favorite lyrics on the album in its chorus. “You are so damn pretty. The Sun and Moon long to be where you are.”

On an album that so flawlessly plays to the strengths of country music’s illustrious history, I can think of no better way to end it than with a cover of the country ballad and genre staple, “Long Black Veil”. Joining the ranks of artists like Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, and Emmylou Harris, Hulsey holds his own with his passionate version of the track.

On the surface, Drive Out is an album of love songs, but underneath you’ll find a collection of music that is refreshingly honest and deeply personal.

On your way through the record, certain tracks almost have a live feel in the recording. This seems to be the album’s way of telling you that it is not background music. It’s not party music. It’s honest and oftentimes raw, and it deserves your full attention.

Drive Out doesn’t feel like it was recorded for the public, it feels as though it was recorded just for you. And while everyone else is searching for the quickest way onto the nearest bandwagon, that makes all the difference in the world.

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