No wonder Carly Pearce named her new sophomore album after herself. This is full-spectrum Carly, sassy and sexy, tender and romantic, and, ultimately, strong and self-assured.
But for Pearce, the album, which debuts Friday, is even more than a multi-dimensional self-portrait. It’s also a tribute to her beloved producer, Michael James Ryan, aka Busbee, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer just 10 days after they had completed the project. He died weeks later, at age 43, in September 2019.
For a brief, broken-hearted moment, the 29-year-old artist tells PEOPLE she considered shelving the album “just because it was so painful for me. I didn’t know how to make music without him, and I was just sad.” But she quickly realized the album was a final testament to the mentor and friend who took her under his wing when she was still an unknown and every other door had been slammed in her face.
“I feel so honored,” she says, “that I got the last full record that he ever made.”
RELATED: Busbee, Grammy-Nominated Songwriter and Producer, Dead of Brain Cancer at 43
Busbee — whose songwriting and production credits include Maren Morris, Keith Urban, Gwen Stefani and Pink — signed on with Pearce in 2015 to do artist development. Two years of hard work finally bore fruit with Pearce’s breakthrough hit, “Every Little Thing,” which they co-wrote with Emily Shackleton. He went on to produce Pearce’s first album, with the same name, that was released in 2017.
If you consider that album a first date — an invitation to get acquainted with Pearce — the new one is sure to entice listeners into a fully committed relationship. Every track sets itself apart, each one reflecting a different facet of Pearce’s personality. But all share the star power of Pearce’s supple voice.
She says she has Busbee to thank for that. “He had an unbelievable way of getting a vocal,” she says. “He wasn’t just a producer for me. He was a co-writer. He was a vocal helper. He was a friend. He was a confidant. I mean, I talked to him almost every day. Music will forever be different for me moving forward just because he helped me build what I am.”
There also were other forces at work, she adds, to help her become the artist she is today. “I wrote so much of that first record in the years before I had a record deal, and that girl was just not fully developed,” she says. “She was searching. She was scared that this wasn’t going to happen. And through the last few years, country music fans have given my music a place. They’ve helped give me confidence. My personal life has helped give me confidence. Life experiences and age have given me a lot of self-confidence, and I just really feel good.”
The “personal life,” of course, is her husband, artist Michael Ray, who she says has been a valuable sounding board for her …read more