There’s a song on Kree Harrison’s just-released This Old Thing album that will stop time. It’s an emotional ballad called “Wanted It That Way” that finds the 26-year-old singer eulogizing her mother Kathy, who died in 2009. The nearly blow-for-blow account of time spent afterward is stunning and raw even before it gets to the final verse.

Songs like “Wanted It That Way” are often difficult for a listener to access. They can be too personal, unless of course the story is so powerful that it grabs you by the throat and squeezes. Tears replace ones breath as Harrison sings:

“I found a letter in your dresser drawer / With my name and no address / Waiting for me in a birthday card that you never sent / You spoke to me like you never have / With words you held back all this time / Were the ones you could never say while you were alive / Why did I have to hear you’re proud of me this way / Gonna carry this letter around so you’re hear every day / Cause I know, yes I know, you would have wanted it that way.”

Harrison tells Taste of Country that her mother wasn’t necessarily the type to lay the adulation on thick, although she’s quick to characterize their relationship as “best friends.” Natalie Hemby helped with the song’s hook, but the story — one Harrison says she’s not sure if she’ll be able to perform — is unquestionably hers.

“It was still pretty fresh, the tragedy,” Harrison, a Season 12 American Idol runner-up, says. “And I just found the letter that you hear about in the song. It literally fell out of a card and I brought it to Natalie that day. I was like ‘This is crazy to me that I’ve never been given this.’”

This Old Thing Album Art
Plaid Flag Records

Harrison has been in Nashville for 16 years, and This Old Thing is her first recording of any kind. She aimed for “timeless” with the 13 songs, and the music reflects an old soul. Call it country-soul if you’d like — she admits with artists like Chris Stapleton on top of mind, the timing for the album couldn’t be better. But it’s a true representation of who she is right now: a country singer heavily influenced by Otis Redding.

“I’ve been so stubborn for my whole life, that’s why I never put anything out,” she jokes. “I’ve made music. I’ve done demos and done sessions, but I didn’t want to put anything out that was just 'good' rather than great, because I’m gonna have to play it every night."

Fans may have grown impatient. After American Idol Harrison took a year to figure out who she was as an artist. She went dark on social media (some thought she may have died) but came back by beginning to share powerful vocal showcases on Facebook. The single “This Old Thing” was released in April, and since then she’s been sharing her debut album’s secrets. Once lost, Harrison found her voice again with the help of friends like John Osborne of Brothers Osborne and roommate/co-writer Maren Morris.

Writer Trent Dabbs also helped Harrison write “Wanted It That Way.” The album was recorded live to tape at Echo Mountain Recording Studio in Asheville, N.C., which means it’s not a flawless production. Like Stapleton, Morris, Musgraves and so many others who are making lyrical depth cool again however, Harrison’s flaws add character.

Watch Kree Harrison Perform "This Old Thing"

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