When an artist gets retrospective in their debut album, too often is it that critics relegate their sound – or even their efforts – to the countless throwback records that make their way onto the charts every few years. The very notion of a player looking anywhere but forward with their lyrics is frequently considered too brazen to be acknowledged, but this isn’t preventing B.B. Cole from making something quite thoughtful in her new album Outgrowing Ourselves. While some singer/songwriters want to live in the moment exclusively, Cole wants to celebrate every facet of life with her music, starting with the soulful lyricism she turns into a sharp tool of expression in this tremendous debut LP.
While her voice is something out of the soul songbook in songs like “Emotional Baggage,” “Demons,” and “My Decision,” there’s no question that B.B. Cole is a country crooner at heart. Her ability to translate bucolic imagery as well as she does in “She Gave Me Feathers” and “Tears and Fears” reminds me of why I got into this kind of music in the first place, and though she’s taking some major inspiration from classic R&B in terms of her delivery, the overall tone of her performance in Outgrowing Ourselves is retro country in every sense of the term – beyond the connotation that she’s somehow living in the past with this sound. The appeal crosses generations, and even if this record owes something to the oldies, that isn’t stopping it from feeling very present and relevant.
“When I Was a Little Girl” and “Wear Your Crown” are perfect single-quality tracks that could work well on pop and country radio stations alike, but I don’t get the feeling that Cole made them with the intention of getting onto the dial. There’s too much raw emotion and untethered heart in both of these songs, and really all of the material in Outgrowing Ourselves, for any of this to have been written with commercial goals alone, and when you realize just how few singer/songwriters are composing from this personal place she is, it makes the content in this LP all the more enticing. She doesn’t want anything more than to be heard, and that purity lends a lot to the stories she wants to tell here.
A lot of debut albums market themselves to the diehard fans of a genre and leave out a lot of potential listeners who are merely passive consumers when it comes to specific styles of music, but this isn’t true of Outgrowing Ourselves in the least. As a singer/songwriter B.B. Cole isn’t striving to fit in with other players, but instead to find a place for herself to dominate, which is one of the greater ideals presented in this nine-part tracklist. Compositionally cohesive and suggestive of more skills than she’s even putting to work for her in these songs, Cole’s greenhorn LP is by far a lot more exciting than you’re prepared for, and it should get a lot of praise from underground circles this season.