It’s difficult to imagine two better authorities on judging a good country song than Lee Ann Womack and Alan Jackson. And both of these multiplatinum stars have taken songs by Erin Enderlin to the top of the country charts. Womack scored with “Last Call” in 2008, and Jackson hit the top five with “Monday Morning Church” in 2004.
It’s worth noting that those are two VERY different songs. “Monday Morning Church” is a slow-dance heartbreak ballad in which the protagonist is as “lonely as a Monday morning church.” Meanwhile, “Last Call” is about a drunk-dialing ex and contains one of the all-time great country-music couplets: “I bet you’re in a bar/ ’Cause I’m always your last call.”
But the thing is, that’s kind of just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Enderlin’s songwriting skills. She is a master storyteller with an eye for details, and all of the tunes on her most recent album, “Whiskeytown Crier,” have goosebump moments and killer lyrical twists. From the dark tale of forbidden love called “Caroline” to the tale of a renegade sibling called “Baby Sister,” which contains another solid-gold line, “I knew you were a pistol, but I never knew you owned a gun,” Enderlin brings the heat as a lyricist.
Which makes sense, given that the Arkansas native was heavily influenced by writers like William Faulkner growing up.
“I wasn’t really studying songwriting in Arkansas,” Enderlin says, “but we DID study authors. So the development of characters and stories has always intrigued me.”
But Enderlin isn’t just a behind-the-scenes Nashville pro. The performance bug bit her just as hard as the songwriting one from an early age.
“My parents told me that they took me out to eat when I was about 4 years old,” she says, “and before they’d realized it I was going up onstage where there was this older gentleman playing the blues, and I started trying to take the microphone away from him.”
In fact, Enderlin started writing songs as an extension of performing them, thanks in part to an interview she read with Reba McEntire.
“I read this interview in the 10th grade,” she says, “and [McEntire] said that someone told her that she sounded like Loretta Lynn, and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. She had to find out who Reba was, because there was already a Loretta. And I don’t know why that made me think of it, but I thought, ‘If I’m WRITING songs, I’ll be the first one who’s ever SUNG them, so maybe that will help me figure out who I am as a singer.’ I started writing songs and taking them into my music class and forcing all of my classmates to listen to them.”
In terms of her sound, Enderlin, who will play a solo acoustic show at The Velo Fellow on Friday, tends to prefer the “less-is-more” approach. Her songs typically feature an acoustic guitar, a standup bass, a mournful fiddle, and drums, with occasional slashes of electric or pedal steel guitar.
One of Enderlin’s greatest songwriting triumphs actually ISN’T on “Whiskeytown Crier.” It’s a new single called “World Without Willie,” which envisions a world without the “Red Headed Stranger,” Willie Nelson. Needless to say, it’s not a place anyone would want to live.
“Part of that song came from being out on the road with him,” Enderlin says of Nelson. “Listening to his set, you realize how many iconic songs he had. And it was kind of crazy to me to think how many of those iconic characters were created by or became popular through Willie Nelson.”
And what was it like sharing the stage with Willie? For a lifelong fan, it was an epic experience.
“One of the first albums I ever had was the “Waylon and Willie“ record,” she says, “and the first song I learned to play on piano was ‘On the Road Again.’ So it was awesome to go from there to seeing my name on the same poster as his.”
What: Erin Enderlin, w/ Sarah Goulette
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15
Where: The Velo Fellow, 1 Augusta St., Greenville
Vincent Harris covers the local and regional music scenes for the Greenville Journal. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @HarrisVince or write to [email protected]