Roberta Lea didn’t grow up actively listening to country music, but she knew names like Shania and Faith Hill. A good song is a good song and will always find its audience. During a drive for a show, Lea decided to acquaint herself with the genre, perusing Billboard’s top country and the Amazon country radio station. What she noticed about the songs’ themes was: beer, truck, and breakup (rinse and repeat). She was unsure where she fit within such a narrow scope, so she wrote a song about it.
“Small Town Boy,” from her debut LP Too Much of a Woman, finds Lea carving out a response to those songs but also speaking her truth. “Let me guess, you’re underneath neon lights / And she’s holding you too tight, like your hand around that bottle,” she sings, taking aim at lyrical cliches. “Let me guess, you’re on the porch in your Levi jeans / On the day she ups and leaves you and the dog in her Silverado.”
Later, in the chorus, she relays her own experiences, singing, “I’d been living life in Lagos and soaking up the sun in St. Croix / I will gladly take the rest of the world / You can have your small town, boy.”
While on her drive, Lea heard songs about beer and trucks, and all she could do was laugh. “I’m just like, ‘Jesus, how do I fit in this puzzle here?’ I’m a Black girl, and I was born in Japan for crying out loud. I don’t have this small-town story that seems to be the theme of three chords and the truth,” she says. “If country music is supposed to be three chords of the truth, my particular truth doesn’t sound like that. I did meet my husband in Cambodia of all places, and it wasn’t in a bar. I’m just thinking about all these things, and I’m trying to figure out how I’m gonna fit in this space when the elephant in the big conversation was Black representation in country music.”
As a result, Lea finds herself “connecting to country music in my own way,” as you’ll hear not only in “Small Town Boy” but across the entirety of Too Much of a Woman. From “Somewhere in the Tide” to “So Much More,” the singer, songwriter, and producer shares the story of her life through a narrator’s perspective. It’s as brilliantly loud as it is wonderfully intimate, allowing Lea to show off her songwriting skills and flex her big voice. Too Much of a Woman arrives as one of the year’s best records.
Listen to “Small Town Boy” below.