Throughout its history, country music has been fortunate enough to have several trailblazing women whose work bucked cultural standards of the so-called “woman’s place” in society. Whether by Loretta Lynn’s “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ ” or Dolly Parton’s “Just Because I’m a Woman,” brilliant women songwriters were able to highlight, and therefore play a role in changing, antiquated and male-dominated ideas of domesticity and gender roles and managed to do it to catchy hooks as well.
Though Fort Worth singer-songwriter Summer Dean playfully tackles some of the same kind of subject matter on Bad Romantic, her new debut LP, she stops well short of asserting that she’s intentionally taking up the banner once carried by the likes of Lynn and Parton as a feminist champion.
“I never set out to be political or make some kind of feminist statement with my songwriting,” she explained. “I’m just writing about what I know and what I think about. I think about the role of a woman often. I’m glad I have many women to look up to that prove that femininity and womanhood has many forms.”
With lyrics like those that make up the chorus to the opening track “Picket Fence” — “Well, that fairytale dream of a family and a ring / Hell, you’d think I’d have one by now / But I’m all alone / Just a woman on her own / Writing songs with no baby and no vow” — she may not necessarily be setting out to be a voice for female empowerment, but the former schoolteacher’s wit and charm likely accomplish doing so all the same.
On Romantic, with her direct and jocular words drawn smoothly in her smoky voice, Dean clearly defines herself as a proud and confident artist, alternating between bouncy up-tempo boot-tappers and wailing pedal steel ballads. Though there’s plenty of ear-wormy melody, it’s the earnestness of her words that draws the listener into her stories. There’s an unmistakable depth of authenticity, devoid of affectation, which permeates her writing, a talent she’s coy about admitting she possesses.
“I think I’m like many writers, in that I’m just trying to do what feels right and make sure I can connect to what I’m doing,” Dean said. “Maybe it comes from writing for myself in an effort to talk to myself, if you will — tapping into certain versions of myself, whether they be pleasing or not, and writing from that perspective. I’ve learned I like simple, plain-sighted things. Maybe we haven’t seen them, but they’re there in plain sight.”
Though the album has been out less than a month, Dean has seen a sizable jump in her listenership, due in large part to “You’re Lucky She’s Lonely,” a duet she shares with Canadian artist Colton Wall.
“It might afford me about a half-price chicken meal at the KFC,” she joked about the recent climbing playcount, hinting at a certain streaming service’s infamous meager payout. “I try not to read into [analytics] too much. I also know that I have Colter to thank for a lot of that. He has a large following, and I’m sure that my name linked with his in a duet/co-write has a lot to do with the numbers. I’ll be forever grateful and proud of our song.”
“You’re Lucky” has over a million listens already, and the bump is rightfully making its way through the rest of Romantic’s tracks, a boon Dean remains characteristically humble about.
“I didn’t know what people would think of my little songs,” she said. “I know what I like, and we tried to capture that. I had some pretty good help in the studio with great producers and top-notch musicians,” such as Matt Hillyer (Eleven Hundred Springs) and songwriters Brennen Leigh and Simon Flory. “I’m sincerely grateful for every single listen and stream. I’m working my butt off, and to know people are listening, and they like it, it makes my guts feel real good.”
Now that Dean has formally walked away from her day job and is fully committed to her art, she’s looking forward to what lies in store. She’s currently on the road touring for Romantic, a situation that due to rising COVID numbers is often still in flux.
“Well, these days things are changing every day,” she said. “Several of my bigger profile shows for this fall have been canceled. That’s a big bummer, but I’ll keep working. My current goal is to work up to full-time touring. I’m writing a lot these days, and I’m hoping to have about 40 new tunes ready by the end of the year to pick from and start the next album at the start of the new year. Fingers crossed.”