EmiSunshine – Ragged Dreams
Talented young people have long wowed gospel and country audiences, from teenage Hovie Lister to pre-teen Dolly Parton. Thirteen-year-old EmiSunshine follows that lead, except she seems more interested in the wages of sin and murder ballads than peppy quartet melodies or butterflies.
Born Emilie Sunshine Hamilton, the East Tennessee native mimics both Ricky Skaggs’ dedication to stringed instrument showmanship and Gillian Welch’s fixation with the harsh realities of mountain life.
Hamilton’s new album Ragged Dreams flaunts her skill with a guitar, mandolin and ukulele. She’s a good enough musician that if this were the ‘70s, she might get drafted to join Skaggs and Keith Whitley as junior members of Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys.
Lyrically, Jimmy isn’t cracking corn. Instead, young Hamilton counters haughty Pharisees (“Sinner’s Serenade”), surveys the waste of an act of God (“As the Waters Rise”), and gets fired up enough over some unsuspecting soul to write a “Tennessee Killing Song.” Children raised in rural churches think about sin and judgment a good bit, so that first song’s lyrics shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows. Those other two songs confront topics that are heavy for any singer, regardless of age or even life experience.
A famous quote attributed to Emmylou Harris says that growing up, paying rent, and recovering from heartbreak are necessary to understand country music. That’s probably true for most people, but Hamilton culls from the same great Americana songbook as Harris without sounding like a wide-eyed youngster. She’s the real deal already, whether she has a credit score yet or not.
Hamilton already earned a following as a YouTube sensation, appearing at age nine on the Today Show. Hopefully her next career progression notches the level of early teen stardom that found Tanya Tucker and LeAnn Rimes’ names emblazoned on a tour bus before they were old enough to drive.