Child stars are generally looked upon as an unlikely novelty for reasons that are abundantly clear. Aside from the fact they can appear both precious and precocious, even the most successful - Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Tanya Tucker being among the most obvious examples - resemble some sort of freak of nature. At an age where most kids are making the transition to their teenage years and wrestling with the physical, emotional and psychological changes that are taking place mentally, socially and internally, any ability to cope with the pressures of stardom seems like forced maturity at best and excessive exploitation at worst.
That makes EmiSunshine's continued success seem all the more phenomenal. She's appeared on national television, gotten praise from the biggest names in the biz and performed onstage at the Grand Ole Opry, seeming to accomplish it all with unflappable poise and an apparently unaffected attitude. That's one of many reasons why even skeptics tend to take her seriously. Her talents as a singer and songwriter are undeniable, and were it not for her tender age, she'd likely receive even more respect than she's already attained.
There are some distractions of course. After all, what's being witnessed is an artist who's still at a tender age - 15 to be exact. Her voice, while capable of sentiment and sincerity, occasionally reflects some child-like charm. Likewise, having dubbed her band The Rain seems a bit cutesy considering her sunny stage name.
Even so, "Family Wars," is clearly her most mature offering yet. If one didn't know better in fact, it might be mistaken for something by, say, an Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin or Mary Gauthier. The songs - "Meanwhile in America," "The Ghost of Hank Williams," "Politicians Dance" and the title track in particular - are far more weightier, introspective and, in fact, knowing than any individual that age might seem capable of creating.
:Granted, she has plenty of help - Jim Lauderdale and the McCrary Sisters are among those that lend their support - but it's also clear that having contributed to the co-writing of every one of the songs, EmiSunshine has a preternatural ability to plow emotions that reside well before the surface and to express them with the care and determination they deserve.
Ultimately, it's simply not enough to call "Family Wars" a superb album. It is, but it's also something more. It's the coming of age of an individual who's reached this plateau long before anyone had reason to see it coming. No longer confined to a niche that might once have tagged her as Shirley Temple's Americana offspring, there's no reason to suggest EmiSunshine not to reap the respect she so decidedly deserves.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer and author based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles. His book - Americana Music - Voices, Visionaries and Pioneers of an Honest Sound - is available from Texas A&M University Publishing.