ADEEM THE ARTIST – Anniversary (Four Quarters Records/Thirty Tigers)

AnniversaryRaised in a conservative Christian household in North Carolina, a self-declared non-binary pansexual, married father previously known as Kyle Adem and now sometimes going by Adeem Maria, Anniversary is their eighth studio album and one that, through Americana colours and the concept of muscle memory, explores different anniversaries, both personal, marriage, parenthood, death, a first meeting, and political. Fittingly, it’s released on the 10th anniversary of their marriage to wife Hannah.

Joined across the album by Brandi Carlile’s drummer Megan Coleman, Nelson Williams from Jake Blount’s band on electric and upright bass, and trans keyboardist Jessye DeSilva with Ellen Angelico on lead guitar, mandolin, banjo and baritone, electric guitar contributions from Aaron Lee Tasjan and producer Butch Walker with Katie Pruitt on background vocals, a storm effect intro opens out into ‘There We Are’, a 13-year-old poem for their penpal wife about their early romance (“it’s raining and we are falling in love again in front of everyone I know nothing but your name, and I know it endlessly”),given a rumbling, urgent Morricone dry desert musical setting.

Guitars twanging, it heads into the alt-country rock and sexual imagery of ‘Nancy’ with its borderline personality disorder protagonist (“in order to get off, she’s gotta see me cry/That’s why we’re hollering all over the house and following each other down”), and a theme of society-induced mental illness and how people view it (“Hey, you know this world is crazy/It ain’t you and me, baby”).

The five-minute shimmering shuffle ‘Part & Parcel’ is more of a folk-rock country persuasion on which he recalls, how, when working on ships he’d take the train from the dock to buy guitar strings, reflectively roaming across the timelines (“I’ve been living in my car, lost in a flea market, looking for my family/I met a girl in a little cafe and along the way, we fell in love/I kiss her on the mouth in a hammock…Now she’s roaring out a primitive yelp and giving birth”) that weave together to form a life. Plangent ringing guitars underpin the equally 90s alt but also queer country of ‘One Night Stand’, a song about a guy who comes home for a hookup and stays for life (“He was the same as I remembered him back when we were younger/He stole my breath the moment/We locked eyes across the room… he said it wouldn’t work out and I believed it then but now it’s different …Now we’re sitting on the front porch with coffee/He’s got a touch of cream but I drink mine black/And when I take his hand in mine, he don’t stop me”), namechecking Loretta Lynn and ‘Fist City’ along the way.

Featuring Pruitt and with echoes of Dylan protest days, the chugging strummed ‘Nightmare’ turns it political, a song written in response to how, on March 3rd, 2023, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed into law a ban on doctors providing gender-affirming medical treatment, such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery, for transgender minors, Adeem flipping the scenario as the song positing “Suppose some senators decide/Your worship is obscene?/All-ages Sunday service/Suddenly’s a felony” as the song opens with “Suppose you showed up Sunday/To sing songs to your Savior/And found the parking spaces/Filled with folks red faced in anger/With homemade signs opining ‘your children must be saved/‘Cause your youth group leaders prey on them’/Now the place you thought would still be safe/No longer feels like home/And you understand they don’t believe/But why can’t they just leave you alone?”. Continuing with “And you’re not sure if it’s safe to wear a cross/Or pause to pray/Do you teach your kids in secret?/Do you tell them to be brave?”, the lyrics evoke the Revolutionary War slogan in “I promise not to tread on you./If you don’t tread on me”.

A John Prine influence, both vocally and in the guitar melody, slips into ‘Wounded Astronaut’ which turns the spotlight on ingrained misogynistic attitudes (“I thought the well-drawn line between our clothes/Meant our brains were different kinds/I could not relate because the subtle shape of theirs/Was not the same as mine”) and a personal childhood dysfunction confession that “I was such a little wounded astronaut/ Using women like accessories/ Mirrors to reflect my broken parts”.

Again fingerpicked with banjo shadings and a horn mid-section, ‘Carry You Down’ is a reflection on parenthood and all the reorganisations you need to accommodate (“If I’m doing the dishes/Throw me a rag to dry my hands/I’ll carry you down/And carry you up again… And even if I am sleeping/Shake me awake and take my hand”). Then, by way of a complete contrast, the rowdy, full blast brass ‘Socialite Blues’ takes its cue from Piedmont and New Orleans blues, drawing on Blind Boy Fuller and Brownie McGhee but eschewing the usual lamentations for an upbeat ode to their wife to take it easy (“Settle down there on the sofa, baby/

Poor yourself a glass of cav-sav too”) that throws in a namecheck for Etta Baker aka Ms.Reid.

At one point mooted as the album title, another echo of Prine with a muted trump, ‘Rotations’ is a lovely parent-child musing on ageing and the passing down of knowledge inspired by how Adeem’s son Isley was born on their 30th birthday during their Saturn Return and how it will be another 30 years before the next , leading to wondering “How many rotations am I gonna get with you?/To share with you the wisdom & magic spells I have accrued?/All the laughter and the longing/Writing down or not recalling/Bad jokes & silly drawings/On any misadventure you can choose/When I’m gone, you’ll carry on & carry all that there is left of me with you”.

The tempo kicks back up with ‘Plot of Land’ and its picture of a hard scrabble living in survival mode society that has trampled the American Dream into the dust (“Nobody wants to work no more/For 15 dollars sweeping floors…On minimum wage, you can’t afford food/Or utility bills but they’re still coming due/And there just ain’t time to dine at home these days”) where “there’s senators in every state/Seeking new bigotry to legislate

and a determination to climb out of the pit (“baby I’m gonna find us a plot of land/With a little house to put a family in /And blueberry bushes I’ll prune to bloom for you/We’ll plant pecan trees up & down the drive…We’re gonna finally get planted & grow on this planet too”).

The hollow tumbling drums and marching beat of ‘Night Sweats’ provide the penultimate track, written about watching nightly images of war on TV when the US invaded Iraq in the early 2000s, but with a timely prescience for events in Gaza in the growled lines “There was a child limp on the pavement/Like a ragdoll in the rubble there… I saw him on the TV, through a smokescreen/He was a prop on CNN… I see him when I’m sleeping, but his face is like my son’s/Under Palestinian soil/Dust & shrapnel in his lungs/Oh my God, what have we done?” Finally comes ‘White Mule, Black Man’, a fingerpicked talking blues that links together the killing of two Black men, 17 year old Anthony Thompson Jr., gunned down in his Knoxville High School bathroom in 2021, and the 1922 state’s execution of Maurice Mays, an innocent man framed for murder, before he could finish speaking his last words. The title comes from the line “a white mule’s curse means more round here/Than the last words muttered by murdered Black Men”, a reference to a local superstition dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, when the prize display of a Gypsy Circus died unexpectedly, the gypsies blaming the locals and cursing the area. As Adeem puts it in the song “Knoxville is haunted by ghosts/Tethered by a cycle of inaction” or, put another way, “Obliviousness is akin to criminally negligent here.” Anniversary isn’t an album you ought to listen to, it’s one you need to.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Socialite Blues’ – official video:

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