Soulful but spunky, eclectic but country, Cam ruled mainstream country music’s margins with the release of Untamed in 2015. Anything the blonde, bright-eyed California native sang seemed to crackle with energy, whether it was stomping and flirty like “My Mistake” or the somber ballad that put her on the map, “Burning House.” It’s an energy that doesn’t show any signs of fading on her sophomore effort The Otherside.
In the five years between releases, Cam has acquired a lot of famous friends. While their presence in The Otherside isn’t immediately obvious, there are plenty of familiar faces at work behind the scenes. Harry Styles, for example, whistles on the track “Changes,” which he also had a part in writing. Cam’s past tourmate Sam Smith co-wrote the one-that-got-away song “Happier For You.” Plus, The Otherside wouldn’t be a groovy, genre-bending country-pop hybrid without a little help from Jack Antonoff who co-wrote and produced the bubbly track “Classic.”
If those names sound like strange collaborators for a lesser-known country act, it’s probably because they are. But Cam is no stranger to pushing boundaries. In 2019 she was featured on Diplo’s country album, singing the folk house minor hit “So Long.” In fact, the title track on Cam’s record was actually meant for another famous DJ. She wrote “The Otherside” with Avicii, who helped popularize meshing acoustic instruments and electronic music before he passed away in 2018.
Between The Otherside’s sheer starpower and Cam’s charisma, each song packs a lot of punch. Not only does Cam embrace bold production choices, she doesn’t shy away from telling gooey, bittersweet stories. “Diane,” for example, is a response song to Dolly Parton’s iconic “Jolene.” “Diane / I promise I didn’t know he was your man” Cam croons over a Simon & Garfunkel-esque, dance-worthy apology track.
“I like doing things that feel like a soundtrack for your life,” Cam said in an interview with Apple Music. While most artists would likely agree with that sentiment, few pull it off quite as well. The Otherside doesn’t have many dull moments despite capturing the fact that life does. She refers to “daytime TV” and “cheap wine” in “Changes” with both nostalgia and resentment. In “Like A Movie” the production resembles the “big moment” in any rom-com, while the lyrics tell a more common, everyday story. Cam puts it this way — “Each story gets its own unique little house to live in.”
These “unique little houses” are made visible in all of the project’s music videos thus far. In the video for her current single “Classic” Cam dons polka dots and takes over the White Limozeen, a new vintage themed rooftop bar atop the Graduate Hotel in Nashville that gets its name from a Dolly Parton song. Alternatively, “Redwood Tree” features the animation of painstakingly handmade paper cutouts. Released a month before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, the apocalyptic video for “Till There’s Nothing Left” is a little too on the nose. At least Cam makes the end look glamorous.
Happy, sad or somewhere in-between — The Otherside is prismatic. Big orchestral string moments, soaring choruses and the sparkle in Cam’s voice can feel like a commercial for a Disney movie on Blu-Ray. It’s your memories made clearer, more colorful, better and brighter. With a bit of percussion here and a dollop of saxophone there, life’s everyday melancholy crystallizes into something worth experiencing again and again.
Daily Arts Writer Katie Beekman can be reached at email@example.com.