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Nashville country rocker Gwen Levey and the Breakdown’s new album, Not the Girl Next Door, finds Levey breaking free and reclaiming her voice. This album is a chronicle of her triumph over toxic times, being silenced and enduring abuse. With newfound strength, she fearlessly shares her wisdom and reveals her true self.


Levey brought in an elite cast of players for this album, starting with co-writers Will Rambeaux and Sherrie Austin, and utilizing the talents of acoustic guitarist Ilya Toshinskiy (Brooks & Dunn, Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift), lead guitarist Sol Littlefield (Kelsea Ballerini, Kane Brown, Luke Combs), bassist Mark Hill (Luke Bryan, Kelly Clarkson, Reba McEntire), drummer Chris McHugh (LeAnn Rimes, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood) and keys player Jeff Roach (Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Darius Rucker).


“Toxic City” is a barnburner with its heavy electric guitar and classic rock organ that tells us Levey isn’t here to mess around. This song is about recognizing when there’s nothing good going on around you and it’s time to get out of a hard situation. “My ex is an alcoholic,” Levey sings in a style that’s half Loretta Lynn and half Joan Jett, “my roommate is insane / my best friend from college / is dancin’ at Club Bombay / one’s not talkin’ to me / the other one talks too much / one just won’t stop cryin’ / she’s all outta drugs.”


A story writer might call this song the inciting incident, the moment when Levey knows that it’s time for a change and nothing will ever be the same. “Everything is autobiographical,” says Levey. “I was surrounded by the most toxic people. I was breaking up with my ex. My roommate situation made it so I couldn’t even go home. People were leaning on me and I wasn’t getting anything back. I kept attracting them. That says a lot about who I was. I was a people pleaser who got walked over. I’m not that anymore. I’m a goddess now.”


After a lifetime of unhealthy relationships, Levey’s “Man for the Job” is about finding that special person who will treat us with the respect and compassion we all deserve. Levey’s rich, sexy vocals are reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac meets Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good.” The song’s bluesy composition has a propulsion to it that emphasizes Levey’s transition to an empowered woman who knows what she wants. 


The bittersweet “The Next Lifetime” is about seeing the best in people even when they’re being the worst. It’s about leaving, but still hoping for the best. It’s a beautiful break up song that feels like a timeless classic that you’ve heard a million times, even on the first listen. Levey crafts a compelling narrative with this hopeful blues rock ballad that uses reincarnation as both a literal and metaphorical idea for forgiveness.


The anthemic women’s rights hoedown “Barefoot and Pregnant” comes in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned. Its tongue-in-cheek lyrics tackle a difficult subject with satiric wit and charm. Its drums propel the song forward like a freight train, as Levey’s clever lyrics challenge outdated social conventions. “What does she do with her college degree?” Levey sings, “Throw it out the window with her IUD.” It’s a rowdy, honky tonk banger that sounds happy, but you can almost hear the tears behind the smiles.


“That was such a dark day,” says Levey. “It’s a very personal issue for me and most women. I was a child who was sexually assaulted. So, everything that's been happening hit me really hard, especially here in Tennessee, which has the strictest abortion ban. That even if you're a child, you can't get help for anything like that. The song has a serious social commentary, but I wanted it to still be fun so it’s more accessible. You have to be brave to sing that in the south.”


The over-the-top “Barefoot and Pregnant” video finds Gwen Levey and the Breakdown on a set that was constructed and hand-painted by her parents. The band performs as a gospel choir, intercut with a pregnant woman performing household chores, and crescendos in a party of drunk good ole boys line dancing alongside pregnant women in maternity party dresses. “Barefoot and Pregnant” emphasizes the ideal of feminist icon Emma Goldman’s paraphrased quote, “A revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having.” The song’s sentiment struck a chord and went viral on TikTok from Levey’s live versions before she even made it to the studio.


With the vocal power of Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” and the raw blues rock of the Black Keys, the EP’s title track, “Not the Girl Next Door,” is a power anthem of big guitars and heavy drums. This is the type of song that’s meant to blow away tens of thousands of screaming fans in sold-out stadiums. “I’m not the girl next door / I’m a goddess” sings Levey, “The total package if you can find my address / Might have been born on Main Street / But I don’t live there anymore / I’m not the girl next door.”


“My whole life I felt like the girl next door,” says Levey. “I went through my blonde phase, wanting to fit in. I broke out of ‘Toxic City.’ Now I’m more than that.”


Levey has gotten through the toxic time in her life. She’s had her voice taken away. She’s been silenced. She’s been in abusive relationships and abusive friendships. This record is her processing what she’s been through, and giving us the wisdom that she’s learned. Now, she’s found a support system and remains hopeful as she unabashedly tells us who she is, where she’s going and what she wants with Not the Girl Next Door.


“Person after person in my life was toxic in some way,” says Levey. “I was clearly attracting them for some reason. But through the healing process, I’ve empowered myself by realizing my worth and finally setting boundaries. I made this record for the younger generation of Gen Z-ers to the older hippie crowd, like my dad. It’s for people who believe in justice, who are standing up for what they believe in, and want to see the world change for the better.”

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