The last time Danielle Bradbery released an album, she was 16 years old and she had won the fourth season of The Voice a short five months earlier. With its floral, rustic cover, 2013's Danielle Bradbery suggested the golden-voiced Texas native would be using her considerable vocal power on more traditional-sounding songs. But even then, she knew it wasn't an honest portrayal of who she was.
"I wasn't a part of the writing on that first record," she says. "So I know the feeling of singing something that's not really you. The whole thing was very much Voice-driven. Afterwards, I wanted to sit down, without all the craziness, and ask myself, 'Who is Danielle?'"
The answer came during the creation of Bradbery's new album I Don't Believe We've Met, which officially arrives on December 1st. With crisp production overseen by songwriter Josh Kerr (Kelsea Ballerini, Dylan Scott) and confessional lyrics, the album challenges any notion people had of the wide-eyed, Blake Shelton-coached ingénue from four years ago.
Bradbery co-wrote seven of the 10 songs on I Don't Believe We've Met, working with an assortment of writers including Thomas Rhett and his father Rhett Akins. The decision to treat her second full-length album like a series of personal diary entries came from Bradbery's desire to excise anything "fake" from her identity as an artist, along with her willingness to distance herself from the image painted by her first album and her portrayal on The Voice. That approach opened up a whole series of new musical avenues and influences that she felt were absent on her debut.
"Now that I've gotten to be more hands-on with my music, there's some soul and R&B woven into it," Bradbery says. "Obviously, a lot of music is changing right now, but I didn't want to do the whole pop-country thing. It kinda bugs me that I have to say that. I was like, 'Let's do R&B country!'"
The album's lead single "Sway," which was released June 2nd and is still gaining some ground on Billboard's Country Airplay chart, makes good on that promise by wedding a doo-wop groove and B3 organ stabs to an indelible pop-country melody. Across the album's 10 tracks, Bradbery blurs the already thin lines between country, pop and R&B.
The writing process for I Don't Think We've Met started around three years ago when Bradbery was fresh off the road and the post-Voice buzz was dialing down. Working with her friend, Grammy Award-winning songwriter Emily Weisband (Faith Hill and Tim McGraw's "Break First"), she penned the revealing ballad "Potential" and a vision for the album began to take shape.
"I've worked with Danielle for around four years, but I don't believe I really met her until we wrote that song," Weisband says. "I think it was around then that she got more comfortable showing me and her team her meatier parts. And you could just tell that she was layered, that she had something to say."
From the beginning, Bradbery set out to be as honest with her storytelling as possible. When her co-writers presented her with lines they thought might be too deep for a young artist just starting out, she embraced them and encouraged her collaborators to keep digging deeper.
"She wasn't trying to be something or please somebody," Weisband says. "When we wrote, I felt like we were just two young girls saying what every other young girls wants to hear that nobody's saying."
Bradbery digs into that mindset on "Hello Summer," which explores the inevitable heartbreak that comes with summer flings and sets the tone for a thread of songs powered more by romantic disappointment than carefree young love. With its gauzy guitar riff following angular, Latin-tinged synth plucks, it's reminiscent of an acoustic pop tune in the key of Shawn Mendes. "Red Wine + White Couch," on the other hand, is completely synth-driven with hip-hop-forward production and no acoustic instruments. When asked how she thinks this record fits into modern country trends, Bradbery is less concerned about airplay than she is about representing her real self.
"I only want to do stuff that's comfortable and true for me," she says. "This music falls back on so many influences I've had since day one. I want people from back home to listen and say, 'Oh, she's still that same girl.'"