Caylee Hammack has a knack for polishing what’s messy and making it beautiful, in a way that mirrors her signature bedhead. Hoop earrings made of plastic, heart-shaped sunglasses that could be found in a gas station, and small-town life in general — they’re all things that some might look down on, but not Hammack, who’s a hell of a lot more than the glitter on her eyelids.
“Hand-me-down dreams got me high in the rafters,” the Georgia native sings at the start of her new song, “Small Town Hypocrite.” “Homecoming queen couldn’t be an outsider, so there I sit with a cigarette lit and a leather jacket.” It’s an evocative line, making the listener wonder if she looks like Sandra Dee but feels like Danny Zuko.
In person, she’s a fast-talking, Tom Waits-loving conversationalist who looks you straight in the eye. In song, Hammack’s a top-notch writer. She’s also a fighter: As a teen, Hammack looked a cancer scare in the eye and strutted away. She lived through homelessness to follow her dream. You can hear survival in her vocal delivery. On “Small Town Hypocrite,” cadences reminiscent of Dolly Parton carry her into triumphant belting. In an industry that often tries to put female artists on a dusty, forgotten shelf by the time they hit 30, it’s throat-tightening to hear Hammack, now in her mid-twenties, sing, “I’m staring at a picket fence, wondering where the hell time went/I should’ve been running, running, running by now/But I just hang around.”
Times are changing in country — a sentiment made clear by Hammack’s credit as a producer on the track. Hammack, who’s going on tour with Reba McEntire this spring and Luke Bryan this summer, might just have the chops to be a real-deal, long-road artist. She made her debut just last year with her song “Family Tree.” “Small Town Hypocrite” is her first release of 2020, and it proves she’s hellbent on making a name for herself.
Popular on Rolling Stone
Find a playlist of all of our recent Songs You Need to Know selections on Spotify.