Song Review: Rachel Wammack, “Damage”

Wait…since when has Adele starting sending singles to country radio?

Rachel Wammack is an Alabama native who signed with Sony Music Nashville in Feburary and released a debut EP in April, but didn’t release her debut single “Damage” to radio until late last month. I’m surprised it took Sony this long to unleash their new artist, because outside of Carrie Underwood no one else is running in this “country power balladeer” lane, and Wammack seems to have all the tools to fill that role. It’s a restrained but moving look at how love can cut both ways during/after a relationship, and features a strong combination of sound, singer, and songwriter. It’s the kind of song that deserves a chance to do some “Damage” on the radio, but likely won’t get it.

If it’s a serious song in Nashville, you can bet it’s centered on a somber piano, and this song is no exception. However, the piano isn’t at prominent as you might expect, as it sharing time with an acoustic guitar at the start of the song and slips into the background as more instruments (drum set, steel guitar, and eventually an entire string section) are tossed into the mix. In truth, the piano functions more as the backbone of the song than the percussion, combining with the strings to create a warm, intimate atmosphere that fits the evening barroom setting perfectly. The tones here are a nice mixture of light and darkness, mirroring love’s creative and destructive power and highlighting both the pain and the recovery of those in the story. All in all, it’s a nice mix that helped the song form a bond with a listener and draws them into the story.

The Adele comparison is actually Rolling Stone’s, not mine (the first person that jumped into my mind was Underwood), and while I don’t think Wammach quite reaches their level in terms of sheer power (in fact, I think “Damage” tries to hold her back with its understated approach), her strong, bright vocal tone suggests she could really blow the windows out of the place if she wanted. (In fact, her vocals inject more light into the track than the instruments do!) While the song’s shackles causes her to sound a bit breathy at times, they don’t impact her earnestness at all, and Wammack demonstrates enough charisma to own the narrator’s role and forge a connection with the listener. A song like this places a huge burden on the artist to come across as believable, but Wammack succeeds here without even breaking a sweat.

The writing, in which a bartender reflects on their observations of love as both a source of joy and source of pain, is not the most novel topic in the world, regardless if we consider the perspective of the patron (Michael Peterson’s “When The Bartender Cries,” Kenny Chesney’s “The Good Stuff”) or the bartender (George Jones’s “Bartender’s Blues”). Still, the lyrics here stand out by being exceptionally sharp and observant, especially in the opening verse:

I’m a bartender
Best friend pretender
I make drinks to help forget and help remember
Beautiful humans
I am a student
And I’ve seen it from all sides winning and losing

We don’t get a ton of details about the bar patrons in later persons, but there’s enough here to paint a picture in the listener’s mind and make them reflect on the pain in these peoples’ lives (and perhaps their own as well). (Also, there’s certainly more depth here than most of the other barroom tracks I’ve heard recently, such as Garth Brooks’s latest single.) It’s a nice reminder that bars aren’t just places where people go to party, and that some serious issues often lie underneath the alcoholic veneer. I’m not entirely sure the song would stand up in the hands of a lesser singer, but when paired with Wammack’s emotional vocals and the production’s perfect atmosphere, the whole thing (especially the narrator’s self-reflective turn at the very end) becomes something special.

“Damage” is a quality song and Rachel Wammack sounds like a quality singer, which makes it even more frustrating when you consider the song’s likely fate: A wall of radio ambivalence, a cameo in the Top 50 if the powers that be are feeling generous, and an undeserved trip to the dustbin of history. If I were Sony, I’d open up the vaults and do whatever I could to get Wammack some airplay, because this song indicates that she’s got some serious potential.

Rating: 7/10. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.