Summer Dean knows the value of unvarnished truth. How paths not taken can yield both happiness and heartache. How life doesn’t care about labels. That candor is palpable in every syllable and sound of the acclaimed singer-songwriter’s new record, The Biggest Life, a profound, vivid document of a songwriter cementing her place among the top rank of Texas tunesmiths.
“I’m very proud of myself and this record,” Dean says. “It’s the most real and vulnerable I’ve ever been with my writing.”
In a moment where so much of country music is safe, slick and simple, there is indeed a rawness and a reality to Dean’s songs which sets her apart as a songwriter of substance. It’s no wonder Texas legends like Bruce Robison, who agreed to produce Life on the strength of Dean’s demos, call her work “bracing.”
You can hear hard-earned humanity in “Big Ol Truck,” a wry ode to reality not always matching expectations, just as you can hear it in the woozy cantina swirl of “She’s in His Arms, But I’m in the Palm of His Hand,” and particularly in the album’s shattering closer, “Lonely Girl’s Lament,” Dean’s most formidable moment on record to date.
“It’s a human story she’s telling,” Robison says. “She’s showcasing life from her perspective. There are things in Summer’s songs that can resonate with people, even if they’ve never lived anything she’s talking about.”
For her part, Dean says Robison’s stamp of approval was “incredibly validating.” “His credentials and record as a writer gave me the confidence I needed to make this kind of album — completely analog, unfiltered and organic,” she says.
Dean has been steadily gaining momentum since the release of her break-out 2021 LP Bad Romantic. Critics hailed Romantic, with Texas Monthly saying Dean showed “deft skill at disarming listeners with her vulnerability,” while the Boot said Dean “spins vibrant tales of her blue-collar life, turning life’s ordinary moments into extraordinary ones.” Dean was also just named the 2023 Ameripolitan Honky Tonk Female of the Year, and has performed with an array of country aces, including Colter Wall, Marty Stuart, Asleep at the Wheel, Hayes Carll, Mike and the Moonpies and Charley Crockett.
Dean’s devotion to honesty in the making of The Biggest Life extended to its creation, with these 13 songs being recorded completely analog at the Bunker, Robison’s Lockhart studio, with a hand-picked band of collaborators. It’s a fitting approach for music that leaves nowhere to hide and spares no detail.
Embracing an approach which made every studio take a high wire act suited Dean’s sensibility for this new material: “It made me let go of perfection,” she says. “I think when any artist does that, they do their best.”
That’s precisely what Summer Dean gives you on The Biggest Life: A handmade album, teeming with unadorned, universal truths, written and performed by a consequential artist whose singular perspective on the world may just profoundly alter yours.