Anne Wilson is a name that may not have reached the ears of most country music fans thus far. Yet her southern upbringing and admiration for the genre runs through the core of her debut album ‘My Jesus’. The title track has already proved to be somewhat of a breakthrough hit for Wilson, recording over 13 million streams since its release in 2021. Given that it has just been nominated for Top Christian Song at the Billboard Music Awards, placing her alongside the likes of Carrie Underwood, Hillary Scott and Dolly Parton as past nominees, it shouldn’t be too long before this 19-year-old from Kentucky advances into the mainstream.
The album demonstrates a wide variety of influences, and slides along the breadth of country music with ease. The opening track ‘Scatter’ affords her a booming entrance after a short prelude that builds the anticipation nicely before announcing itself in heavy rock style. It then settles into a recognisable Southern Blues rhythm, complete with deep twang, hand claps, and the odd toll of a bell. It is very different from the title track, which changes the pace and mood quickly with its soft piano and reflective vocals. It leans unreservedly into elements of Contemporary Christian Music whilst also showcasing the sounds of Modern Country. It is this tightrope that Wilson seems to walk most keenly, which is no surprise given that these are the two musical wells that she draws most of her inspiration from. ‘Devil’ and ‘Hey Girl’ reveal that she is happy to step off that line when she wants to however. The sonic rock of the former creates a lovely bit of Southern Gothic while the RnB touches on the latter contribute to the unapologetic message that is very Maren Morris in tone.
Sandwiched in between these two songs is what could be regarded as the best song on the album. ‘Sunday Sermons’ is storytelling at its finest, and represents Wilson’s personal faith testimony. It is to her what ‘Woman at the Well’ is to Olivia Lane and ‘Something in the Water’ is to Carrie Underwood. Its infectious country-pop rendering ensures that it’s as memorable as both of those hits, with the additional burst of electric organ at the end of the fabulous chorus line contextualising those “heart-stirring, Spirit-moving Sunday sermons” nicely. It prepares the way for a couple of tracks that borrow from scriptural references. ‘Mansions’ presents a particular image of heaven that is community-oriented whilst ‘This House’ also directly covers part of an old hymn made familiar to Wilson’s generation by the band Hillsong.
The album then takes a little break from its Gospel focus to first celebrate mothers and then reflect on a loved one. ‘Mamas’ features Hillary Scott of Lady A, whose vocals add a gentle touch and marry well with Wilson’s own. Together, they produce not a rip-roaring declaration a la Gabby Barrett so much as to say that “Jesus and my Mama love me” through an ambling guitar-led reflection on a few relatable attributes, including “arms to fall into”, “phone calls saying ‘Don’t forget/ I’m always in your corner’”, and “the heart that makes a house a home”. This home is treasured on ‘No Place Like Home’ in respect of its reminiscences on childhood days spent with her brother. It is a heartfelt and touching tribute to her older sibling who was tragically killed in a car accident at the age of 23, and represents country music’s innate ability to be a channel through which to process pain. What makes this song extra special is the way in which Wilson communicates hope and light amidst her experience, the final verse bringing a tear to the eye such is its poignancy and utter tenderness.
Wilson returns to reflect on the core of her faith and beliefs on the last part of the album. ‘God Thing’ is close to evangelical in its telling, both in terms of its lyrical content and guitar arrangement. Meanwhile, ‘That’s What We Need’ is a rousing call to Christian love while ‘Something About That Name’ has more in common with church worship than country music. Its familiar refrain, complete with choir and big drums section, means that, like the rest of the album, this is not trailblazing. Anne Wilson is far from being a one-hit wonder however. There is some good solid stuff to be found on this debut record which contains some beautiful instances of personal songwriting mixed with music that holds commercial and popular appeal. She may be on the edges right now but ‘My Jesus’ is sure to cause some sort of stir in Nashville. Country-Gospel at its finest.
Featured Image (C) Anne Wilson