In country music, a "weeper" is a real thing: a song that's somewhere between a ballad and a hopeless confessional, that places more emphasis on a forlorn guitar and rare, raw lyricism than showboat vocals (though they're often part of the package, too). Think Hank Williams' and Patsy Cline's saddest moments or, later, Townes Van Zandt's — jewels like "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" that struck a perfect balance on the Southern scale with barn-burning honky-tonk, keeping it all delicately teetering in line.
But then the '90s happened and, for better or worse, ballads got the Faith Hill and Shania Twain treatment — notes hit the ceiling and power bombast replaced subtle solemnity. Simplicity, this was not. Luckily, there's been a new bubbling interest in bringing back the genre's delicate, melancholy roots: most of Daniel Romano's Come Cry with Me, Andrew Combs' "Too Stoned to Cry," Margo Price's "Hands of Time," and even Miranda Lambert's "Holding On to You." Now Michaela Anne, on her sophomore album, Bright Lights and the Fame, has an LP full of them — heartbreakers so grounded in self-awareness that they never sound anything but authentic, yet never too indulgent to ring just like diary scribbles.
One of the LP's best is "Easier Than Leaving," which opens with a snapshot in time of a fading relationship: "Sitting at the table, back's against the wall / Coffee's getting colder as I wait for you to talk." Who hasn't felt that tension, taken a last gasp at peaceful air before they fully breathed in the inevitable reality they knew was coming? With a clear quiver, Anne, who moved to Nashville from New York City two years ago, reinvents the lost age of those weepers in the way someone equally schooled in both the forebears — like Williams and Cline — and its modern folk interpreters — like Gillian Welch and Conor Oberst who carried the emotive torch when mainstream Music Row was too busy belting — might. "Easier Than Leaving" might not change her lover's mind and force them to stay, but it will just continue to help put soft, strummed country sadness back on the map.