Forget what’s “age appropriate” for EmiSunshine, a 15-year-old phenom with six years’ experience in the public eye. As new album Family Wars proves, few current artists of any age can pull off murder ballads, ghost stories, and other slightly deranged song topics from country music’s folk roots as effectively as Emi.
That’s not to say this new collection of songs dwells on the past. The title track, performed with a band featuring Emi’s dad Randall Hamilton, her brother John, and her “Uncle” Bobby Hill, explains inner-family turmoil and neighborly strife in a way that sheds light on the contentiousness that’s dividing our society.
Likewise, “Scarecrow,” the tale of an abused wife driven to murder, sadly could have happened any time or place. As could “Politicians Dance,” an exposé of the sorry buzzards elected to office ever since Emi’s favorite music arrived in the New World.
More poignantly, “Jonas Black” — recorded with the band and a second time with the McCrary Sisters — deals with today’s mass shootings through the lens of a high school-aged performer. It bravely and emotionally tackles what’s weighing heavier on Emi’s peers than any prior group of teenagers, making it one of the most important statements made all year by any country artist of any age or level of acclaim.
It’s not all gloomy introspection from someone billed as EmiSunshine. “Same Boat,” co-written with Autumn McEntire, reminds us that we’re all in this together, while “Meanwhile in America” counts our blessings and freedoms without sugarcoating the problems faced by our nation. “There’s Got to Be More” is a co-write with Jim Lauderdale.
In all, the album establishes EmiSunshine as a strong creative force: no qualifiers necessary. That’s to say she’s not good for a teenager, a young woman, a ukulele player, a family band member, or any other descriptor that’d place her in a smaller field of performers. She’s just plain good, with talents outliving the novelty that went along with her earliest exposure at age 9 and establishing her as someone bold and talented enough to tackle today’s issues while honoring yesterday’s folk traditions.