The steady rise of the career of Hailey Whitters, Eastern Iowa's very own country songstress, is about to shift into a new gear. Or at least it should. Her 2020 album The Dream made year-end best-of lists. She followed that up in 2021 with the addition of several stellar duets with the likes of Trisha Yearwood, Little Big Town, and Jordan Davis on the expanded Living The Dream. Heck, she's even had a song featured on an episode of the hit TV show Yellowstone. But her new album 'Raised' sounds and feels like the best work of Whitters' career.

Perhaps that's because she is singing about home. Whitters is from Shueyville. She went to school at Cedar Rapids Prairie, a school once nicknamed Cow Pie High. Perhaps it still is. She's as Iowa as it gets. So is the album. It is full of songs that anyone that grew up on these same dirt roads can relate to. Songs like Raised, Middle of America, and Boys Back Home evoke images of not only the life that Whitters has lived but the life that I've lived. How great is it to have a country album that doesn't simply categorize Iowa as a flyover state, but instead pines about the things that make it special? I wish I'd had this album to listen to my whole life.

Hailey is, of course, a master songwriter. She gets help on Raised from some of the best in Nashville like Brandy Clark, Lori McKenna, and Craig Wiseman. I love the imagery and specificity in the lyrics. On Boys Back Home, Whitters sings of boys who "ain't scared of nothin' except for your brothers, they walk like their daddies, marry girls like their mothers". In Big Family, she writes of "roots tangled in the same dirt". But my favorite lyric comes from my favorite song on the whole album, her collaboration with American Aquarium on Middle of America. 

They ain't left, they ain't right, they're just left right in the Middle of America.

The song reminds me of a 1980's Mellencamp anthem that I can't wait to hear performed live in concert!

When I sit back and listen to Raised, I hear a little bit of Kacey Musgraves in Hailey Whitters. In her delivery and tone, but also some of that tongue-in-cheek humor on songs like Everything She Ain't and Our Grass is Legal. Kacey traded in her boots for sequins and a more 'pop' sound. There is no danger of that happening with Hailey Whitters.

While this amazing collection of songs might not mean mainstream radio airplay, Whitters is guaranteed the continued love from her hometown and state. Several sold-out shows await her at the Dance-Mor Ballroom in Swisher this spring. I can't wait to hear the new music and thank her for an album that is genuinely 'Iowa'.

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