published: 10 /
Fabulous combination of anger and rock on new album from feminist bluegrass trio Della Mae
When Della Mae formed in 2009, one of their ambitions was to disrupt a male dominated music scene. With that in mind, they were searching for a way to capture the feeling that had come out of the #MeToo movement. Yet, the right song didn’t arrive.
It was when responding to Christine Blasey Ford testimony in Congress that songwriter Celia Woodsmith found what she was after – the eventual track ‘Headlight’ came out quickly (she estimates it took twenty minutes to write), but it articulates a lifetime of activism, a combination of anger and hope. “Be a headlight in this dark night/They might not believe you, but I do,” Woodsmith sings. And her band had the title track for their first album in five years.
It’s a high octane opening. Nominally a bluegrass act, Woodsmith sings as if she is filling in on the latest AC/DC reunion tour, while her bandmates Jenni Lynn Gardner (mandolin) and Kimber Ludiker (fiddle) floor it with their respective solos. It’s a perfect combination of justified anger and just-plain-rocking – the kind of thing the Drive By Truckers have built their career out of.
After that opening, Della Mae are almost morally obligated to slow things down on the next track, which they duly do, roping in guest singers the McCrary Singers to add a gospel mood. The pace doesn’t drop for long, as they do a good impression of a ‘The Rising’-era E-Street Band on the excellent ‘The Long Game’ before busting into a bar-room groove on the raunchy ‘I Like It When You’re Home’.
The McCrary Singers return on ‘It’s About Time’, which sounds as if it has emerged from a jam session, but ends up focused. This track, hard and defiant, is immediately contrasted with the album’s most personal moment, ‘Waiting for You’, which covers the pain of infertility and the added pain of society’s unwillingness to discuss it openly.
If ‘Headlight’ marks a conscious decision by the band to move beyond their bluegrass roots, it certainly doesn’t abandon them. We are treated to the delightful ‘Peg Monster’, which lifts off the album’s final third. Over in less than three minutes, I’d have been happy for it to be twice as long.
Embarking on this album, in between a relentless schedule of live shows, Della Mae decided to abandon genre conventions and do whatever was needed to make the record they’d always wanted to make. That meant bringing in lots of collaborators and jamming openly. The end result is a triumph – a marriage of elite musicians with top-notch material. ‘Headlight’ has not a single dull moment.
Change [feat. The McCrary Sisters]
The Long Game
I Like It When You're Home
The Odds Of Getting Even
It's About Time [feat. The McCrary Sisters]
Waiting For You
First Song Dancer
Working [feat. The McCrary Sisters]
I Can't Pretend