By Robert Dean
Nov 17, 2020
By Robert Dean
Oct 23, 2020
"Everything is a little less worse when someone sees you like a person.” This line from the eighth track of Stephanie Lambring’s debut album tells the record’s whole story. Appropriately titled Autonomy, the album is defined by a sense of independence, the right of Lambring and her characters to tell their own unique stories and the acceptance of responsibility for their own actions and opinions. Lambring gives a voice to the downtrodden and forgotten throughout this record, the least of these who rarely see their stories told, even in country and Americana music where heartache and loneliness can be eased by a mournful melody and the knowledge that someone else has endured the same pain. These are the tales of outcasts, of the misunderstood and ignored, of those who long to just be seen as people. Stephanie Lambring sees them, and she has arrived to empathize with them and show compassion, and through her words, to help us see them also.
Empathy is what sets this album apart and makes these songs resonate. Social commentary in music only works if the artist can not only look out at the world, but can also see within and be vulnerable. Lambring gets this exactly right by opening the album with her most personal songs, describing her shortcomings in detail on “Daddy’s Disappointment” and singing the painful story of her lifelong desire to be "pretty” on the track of the same name. “Pretty” reflects a struggle that so many women and girls go through and never completely get over, and this song does a great job of sending an encouraging message without resorting to empty platitudes and clichés about how we are all perfect.
Even when she’s not telling her own story, Lambring’s relentless attention to detail brings these characters to life and provides vivid illustrations. In “Mr. Wonderful,” she expertly explains how a woman can get caught up in an abusive relationship, from the beginning where she’s swept off her feet to the times he makes her feel guilty for wanting a night out with friends to the troubling dream she’s been having in which she’s on the couch with his hand over her mouth. Everything is a gradual process, until the woman is trapped in a reality she can’t escape and left wondering whether she’s partly to blame. On “Birdsong Hollow,” Lambring documents the last moments of a man’s life before he commits suicide, even down to him taking out the recycling. There is neither judgment of his decision nor of the parents who lost him, just a quiet reflection to remind us of the internal struggles faced by those around us which we often overlook. “Old Folks Home” might be the most heartbreakingly beautiful song here, as we learn about three residents who came here for different reasons, all feeling lost and forgotten by the world. Now they are alone in “God’s waiting room,” as people all around them keep asking when they’ll get to go home and then eventually stop asking when they realize the awful truth. It is here where that defining lyric of the record is found, where Lambring expresses their common desire to just be treated like people once again.
For all the heartbreak, however, somehow there is hope in these stories. Albums like this one can sometimes be a depressing listen and beg for a moment of levity. And indeed, “Fine” does add a lighter touch to this project to counter this concern. But even aside from this, the album is far from depressing. It is less about the circumstances of these characters and more about the fact that Stephanie Lambring recognizes them as people and values their stories, and as she so eloquently puts it, this makes everything a little less worse.
It’s that intangible desire for autonomy which makes this record universal and compelling. Maybe we have never been sent to a camp to correct our behavior like the gay teenager in “Joy of Jesus.” Maybe we have never been left in a nursing home and stripped of our dignity. Maybe we have never known what it is to be trapped in the bonds of an abusive relationship. But we all share the same need and desire to be seen as people, and too often we lose sight of this when it comes to others. Stephanie Lambring gives us a gentle reminder here through her songs and challenges us all to live with a little more love and understanding in our hearts.
Autonomy is available today everywhere, including Stephanie’s website.
Oct 9, 2020
By Matthew Martin
On Great Peacock's third outing, Forever Worse Better, they have finally created what they've been looking to create for the past few years. This is revitalized Heartland Rock. The band is tighter on this release. Everything seems to be in sync, making for a hell of an album.
The album is a much more personal effort for Andrew Nelson who has described some of the self-doubt and relationship failures that were the muses for some of the better songs on the album (and the best of GP's career). With songs like, "Heavy Load" and "All I Ever Do" there is a clear growth in songwriting both lyrically and musically. It takes a lot to be able to put to words the emotions that come with those feelings and relationships that just always seem to be pulling us down.
But nowhere on the album is the clear growth of Great Peacock more evident as "High Wind." This is the standout song on the album for me, and quite frankly, I think this is the best song of their catalog (subject to change). From the opening kickstart of the drums to the chugging of the guitars, musically this song is a barnburner. I hear it and immediately feel like I'm hearing my favorite Petty song but not a cheap imitation. And the lyrics are a perfect encapsulation of the album. On this singular song, Andrew laments not only his aging but also his relationship problems. But, there's hope in the song. You know we all have these problems, but the most important part is doing the most while you can. Live it up. In these weird, covid fever dream times, it's a song that feels so pertinent.
The album is full of these songs- "Rock of Ages" and "Learning to Say Goodbye" are beautiful, meaningful, and triumphant. These songs are a testament to the band and their ability to have taken these songs out on the road and truly fine-tune their sound. The soft songs are sonically textured in a great way. The rockers are there. And, the intertwining of Andrew and Blount Floyd's guitars and voices is something to behold. Frank Keith's basslines are tight and keep everything together. This is a group hitting their stride, finding their voice as a band, and hopefully they have a lot more left in them.
Go buy the album and support Great Peacock any way you can.
Aug 28, 2020
Music Row is rife with country artists either obsessed with proving their Southern street cred or lamenting the restrictive boundaries of country music and forsaking their musical roots in the name of evolution. Across town in east Nashville, the Americana world has been flooded in recent years with musicians and songwriters who are more concerned with making records that sound old rather than records that sound timeless. And all across the country, more and more artists are taking political stances which are alienating their audiences rather than seeking to speak to us all and change hearts through artistic expression. Somehow, Zephaniah OHora manages to be the antithesis of all of this at once, the cure for every issue plaguing country music in 2020. This record comes out of New York City, and yet it’s more country and more authentic than the majority of the music coming from Nashville. And OHora is not looking to divide, but rather is proud of being "an all American singer,” as he announces on the track of the same name. For so many reasons, this is the album we desperately need in this moment.
The obvious concern when writing and recording within these boundaries and when trying to perfect the classic country style is that the songs may feel more like an interpretation of the style rather than a true representation of the artist and revitalization of the sound within a modern context. But Zephaniah OHora does a nice job keeping these songs relevant to the modern ear. The best example of this and indeed the album’s greatest strength lies in a trio of tracks in the heart of the record. “All American Singer,” as mentioned above, takes the radical position of taking no political position, but rather seeking to unite all people through the music. Some may say this is OHora choosing to "shut up and sing,” as many people on social media have unfairly asked artists to do, and OHora himself says that he’ll get "back behind the guitar” rather than on a soapbox. But this song is more about Zephaniah OHora making the choice to reach out to all people and recognizing music’s power to do so. This is further evidenced in the next song, the albums title track, as he declares that in a time of "evil that plagues the earth, it’s hard to find anything of worth” and that music is his escape from all the pain of this world. We can all certainly relate to these sentiments, as well as those expressed in the next track, “Living Too Long,” wherein OHora reflects on the times changing and local bars shutting down. Regardless of our backgrounds or political stripes, we can all understand this uncertainty, particularly this year. Life is hard, and we all have days where we feel like we’ve been living too long. Music, and especially country music, is unique in its ability to speak to us and sustain us through these times of trouble, and as the album’s title suggests, this is what OHora is seeking to accomplish with this record, and in so doing, he makes these songs and these ideas as relevant and important in 2020 as they would have been in 1970.