Arkansas resident Wanda Clinton may have a stern word for you if you claim to be the biggest fan of her granddaughter, the highly respected Nashville singer-songwriter Erin Enderlin. “I love my grandma,” says Enderlin. “She’s 86 and just got on Facebook. She loves to argue with people that she’s my number one fan. She’s a good one.”
Enderlin – who has been in Music City since the early 2000s – has just released the critically acclaimed album Whiskeytown Crier. The set contains guest appearances from the likes of Jessi Alexander, Ricky Skaggs, Jon Randall, and Chris Stapleton – someone that Enderlin knew before he became a superstar.
“When I moved to Nashville, I lived in a house that another songwriter named Darrell Burgess owned,” she recalls to Billboard. “It was divided into different sections, and I rented a room upstairs. The basement was rented out by this guy named Chris Stapleton. I’d lie awake at night, and hear him sing through the air conditioning vents.” Even then, Enderlin knew that he was special. “I thought he was a superstar already. He probably had at least a hundred cuts to that point.”
Mind you, Enderlin has done pretty well herself. The singer has achieved cuts from Trisha Yearwood and Randy Travis, and watched as Alan Jackson and Lee Ann Womack hit with her “Monday Morning Church” and “Last Call,” respectively. The Jackson track, a No. 5 Hot Country Songs hit in 2005, was her first cut to be released. She still recalls that moment that she heard Jackson was recording the song – and that one of her heroes was involved.
“I was on spring break from college when I got the call ‘Hey, Alan is going to cut your song today, and by the way, he’s got Patty Loveless singing on it.’ I still remember driving down Music Row, and hearing it on the radio, and thinking ‘This isn’t real. This is a movie.'”
Her new album was produced by Jamey Johnson and Jim “Moose” Brown, two of Nashville’s most creative minds. Enderlin says she went outside of the box with her creative process. “I started recording this one about seven years ago. I put the last one (2013’s I Let Her Talk) out in the middle of doing this one. I got to go in with my friends and a bunch of musicians that I am crazy about, and made the album that I wanted to make. I feel lucky to be able to do that, and I feel very proud of it.” In addition to taking an unorthodox approach to recording her albums, she also breaks one of the newer unwritten rules in town. “I think there’s a thirty-eight second steel solo in it, so I’m excited,” she says, admitting that she doesn’t keep up with guidelines of what to do (or not) in the studio. “I don’t think I’m smart enough to keep with them.”
The name of the album has an old-fashioned rustic quality to it, but Enderlin says she can’t take the credit for that. “It was Jamey’s idea to call it that. The old newspapers were called that, and there were criers that went from town to town singing the news, like in Robin Hood. It was his idea to make an album that would be kind of like a small-town newspaper – a different story about different characters.”
One of those songs is the Southern Gothic-like “Baby Sister,” which was co-written with Shane McAnally and Felix McTeigue. “I like songs that tend to examine the darker side of life,” she asserts. “But this song has some sass to it, and it’s got a humorous take on…murder. You could call it a fun, uptempo murder ditty. My sister gets a thrill out of it.”
Johnson encouraged Enderlin to tip her hat to one of the legends of the format with a cover of an iconic Tammy Wynette song from 1976. “I thought his idea really cool because country music is really big on embracing its roots. He asked me ‘What is a song that you would never want to cover?’ I told him ‘Till I Can Make It On My Own.’ I wouldn’t want to have to sing that.’ He said ‘Ok, that will be one that you will do,'” she says with a laugh. “It was very intimidating.”
The history of the genre is important to Enderlin, and she’s thankful to have been able to develop friendships with some of the veteran writers in town during her early days in Nashville. “I was thinking about all of the amazing people that I got to meet and hang out with that we don’t have here anymore. I remember watching Danny Dill play ‘Long Black Veil’ around town all the time. There was also Don Wayne and Curly Putman. I feel lucky that I got to know all of those guys when I got here.”
Even so, she had been coming to Nashville for years prior with her parents. Perhaps it was one such visit that convinced her of her career path. “I don’t think I was old enough to know what I was getting into. By the time that I was three and a half, my parents and I were in Nashville and we went out to eat at The Cock of the Walk [a restaurant near Opryland]. They had this old blues guy and I went up and took his microphone. I guess I’ve always been rude,” she noted with a sense of humor, “and that I wanted to sing.”