Tenille Townes' "Somebody's Daughter" is a different kind of debut single because, you know, any fool can find a hit with the right love song, and nine of 10 jokers can run up the airplay chart with a rowdy drinking song.

Of course that's a gross exaggeration, but songs that press on guarded nerves aren't what Top 40 deejays sit around asking for, and young artists often can't provide that sort of nuance. "Somebody's Daughter" — a percussive vocal showcase that humanizes homelessness — holds up a mirror to how we treat people holding cardboard signs on street corners.

The soft-spoken Townes is the perfect messenger. We're never shamed, but we're not let off the hook, either. Her story is capable of inspiring real change. It ends with an expectation to do better.

"I think it always has to start with the little things," she tells Taste of Country. "Looking somebody in the eye or smiling at them or being like, ‘I see you.’ I think if everybody starts posturing themselves that way, then the bigger change comes after that."

To appreciate why "Somebody's Daughter" is the best introduction to Townes, you have to understand her upbringing. The 25-year-old was raised in Alberta, Canada, among people who were forever looking out for one another. Fundraising and helping those in need was intentional and frequent to the point that she regularly participated in a charity concert for a youth shelter. So when Townes and her mother spotted a woman along a Nashville interstate off-ramp holding a cardboard sign, they didn't just keep driving.

"We just kind of looked at each other and had this conversation about what her story might have been and who she belonged to," Townes says, meaning who her parents were. "What happened from the point where she was somebody’s daughter to now?"

"Now this light'll turn green and I'll hand her a couple dollars / Oh, and I'll wonder how she felt when no one caught her / She's somebody's daughter," Townes sings. Barry Dean and Luke Laird helped her write a song that can sit like a pebble in your sneaker if you're part of the majority that plays with your cell phone in these situations.

"I think my hope is that people just start recognizing the people around them," Townes says.

"Somebody's Daughter" has received a tremendous boost since she became iHeartRadio's most recent On the Verge artist. It's inside the Top 40 after just three weeks. For perspective, Eric Church's "Some of It" sits just ahead of her at No. 33 after nine weeks, and Randy Houser's "What Whiskey Does" is behind her at No. 35 after 33 weeks. She'll need other radio groups and independent stations to sign on to crack the Top 20, however, and that depends on how people casually listening in cars and at work respond to the tension she creates in this well-written, sonically dynamic tear-jerker. One gets a sense that Townes is at peace with whatever happens, and the results won't change her focus.

"Music has a way of tearing down the walls that we put up around us," she says about a keen ability to evoke tears during so many songs. "It makes you go into these places that you wouldn’t go into by yourself but the song will take you there."

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