The Virtues of Sticking to Your Country-Pop Guns
The Wreckers wanted to do more than ‘Stand Still, Look Pretty’
In the first years of the new millennium, everyone knew Michelle Branch. “Everywhere” and “All You Wanted” off The Spirit Room were inescapable pop-rock hits in 2001, and the Latin rock tune “The Game of Love” with Santana was even bigger the next year. After her second album, however, she switched gears and teamed up with friend Jessica Harp to form the country-pop duo The Wreckers. The result was Stand Still, Look Pretty (2006), a testament to how talent may change course but never disappear.
Branch and Harp wrote most of the songs on Stand Still, Look Pretty. They saunter along in good country fashion, with a ballad here and a rocker there. Jennifer Hanson and Billy Austin are credited as co-writers of “Leave the Pieces,” which Billboard reported as reaching number one on U.S. Hot Country Songs. “One More Girl” is a Patty Griffin tune that the songwriter herself had recorded but wouldn’t release until Silver Bell in 2013. If there’s a weak aspect to The Wreckers, it’s that most of the tunes sound like ones you’ve heard before. They’re too pristine to excite or challenge, yet they’re immediately enjoyable and underscore Branch’s versatility.
Stand Still, Look Pretty may be closer to what Branch had wanted to do from the start. In the liner notes, she writes, “I can finally say that I have made an album without compromising anything.” Apparently, she and her friend were the ones calling the shots, not label execs with no scruples about bending artistic vision to what will sell. Branch exudes this attitude of self-empowerment in band photos. Whereas Harp tends toward dresses and cowboy boots (purple!), Branch prefers pants and T-shirts (Black Sabbath!), shows a significant amount of ink, and generally looks like she is not impressed with your horse pucky.
The Wreckers also made contributions outside their own releases. The perfect combination of Branch and Santana returned when The Wreckers joined him for “I’m Feeling You” in 2005. It has all the pop sizzle and steam that characterized that phase of Santana’s career. According to MTV.com, Branch also wrote music for Mandy Moore’s Wild Hope (2007) during this time. Given that album’s less pop, more folk approach, one would expect the two musicians to be a good fit, but Wikipedia says their collaborative track was unreleased. I’ve been unable to confirm that elsewhere, but assuming for the moment that it’s true, I’ll just have to imagine how good it is.
The women of The Wreckers gush so much affection for each other in the thank-yous of the CD booklet that you’d think they were destined for a long discography, but Stand Still, Look Pretty was their first and last album together. Both artists have continued their careers as musicians, with Branch’s Hopeless Romantic in 2017 demonstrating a further development of her pop-rock side and providing more evidence that pop glory doesn’t preclude the true gift of music-making.