In her latest single, “Just a Dance,” Casey Ahern turns out possibly the most emotive country vocal of September in what adds up to being one of her very best slow-songs to capture the attention of both fans and critics. “The yellow lights / The swing of the crowd / He just grabbed my hand / And spun me ‘round and around,” she sings in the opening stanza, a sense of struggling confidence punctuating her words with genuine affection. There are no bells and whistles, no commercial fluff to sort through – there’s just Ahern, her pastoral poetry, and the boldly textured harmonies that she creates with the string section in the background. It might not be a world-changer, but “Just a Dance” is a lot more like a tender embrace than it is a standard country single.

I think the instrumentation is just as critical component to the narrative in this song as the words are, and there are even a couple of parts – particularly in the first half of the composition – where it feels like the melodies are telling us a story entirely separate from the one that the lyrics are. This sort of duality can be a bit of a problem for overambitious upstarts in Nashville (and, for that matter, Los Angeles and New York as well), but Ahern doesn’t have a difficult time drawing all of the pieces together in “Just a Dance” at all. Contrarily, she’s setting a progressive standard for her alt-country competition with these dexterous songwriting skills.

There’s a vulnerability to this track that, while being alluded to in past hits like “He Was Summer,” has never been on full-display until now. It’s almost as if Casey Ahern has shed whatever inhibitions she might have been carrying within herself in this song, and in their place we find a willingness to stand before the crowd totally exposed (something that has been increasingly difficult to find in the last few years, both in pop and country music). She has nothing to conceal from us in these lyrics, and in the adjacent instrumental melodies, there’s a reflectiveness that I would love to hear her exploit just a bit more than she already has. Ahern knows how to go deep, but I want to see just how deep she can really get.

I-HEART RADIO: https://www.iheart.com/artist/casey-ahern-32081109/songs/just-a-dance-78716050/?autoplay=true

No matter what style of music you favor the most, there’s just not a lot of talent in the world like Casey Ahern’s, which is a big part of the reason why I think she’s experiencing the meteoric rise to fame that she is at the moment. While some artists might spend a career trying to develop, evolve and ultimately find their own signature sound, Ahern has already got hers; she’s not searching for herself in “Just a Dance,” but instead reasserting who she is both as an artist and as a performer. This is an identity track by all measurements, and a decidedly countrified way of stating the obvious – Casey Ahern is an unparalleled player with a voice that her genre needs now more than ever before.

Nicole Killian

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