SADIE GUSTAFSON-ZOOK – Where I Wanna Be (own label)   

Where I Wanna BeRaised in a Mennonite community in Indiana, her mother a pastor, where she regularly attended quilt auctions (not, I suspect, as much as an influence as her parents being folk musicians), Gustafson-Zook came out in her mid-20s, something that inevitably informed her debut album, ‘Sin Of Certainty’. Where I Wanna Be, her second, just voice and guitar, follows a similar autobiographical path embracing a breakup, a less than wonderful spring in Nashville, and a period of living in her Honda before settling in her hometown of Goshen, Indiana., peppered with stories about school crushes on gay boys, asking the weatherman for guidance and of the feeling of inferiority in meeting your idols, all in her pure, slightly reedy voice.

The difference between how you and others see yourself provides the substance to the guitar rippling ‘Anyone’ (“You are walking down the street carrying groceries/and each person who passes by you sees a different version of you carrying groceries”) and, by extension, the different choices you can make (“You can sing any song you want to/And you can use any hues that you choose/You can walk anywhere you want to/And you can be anyone”). On the choppy strummed ‘Last Time, Lost Time’ the image of feeling anxious watching “a kid on a skateboard” and wondering if they were okay when they bent their knees and slipped out of sight becomes a metaphor for how “the past two years of my life/I bent my knees about to fly/But then everything disappeared/My life/Halted in mid-flight/Now I’m coming round the park/Carrying on from last time, lost time” and, picking up the self-discovery theme, of moving away to find where you belong (“It feels good to have a community/but then I up and left for the sake of/Learning more about myself/Figuring out where my roots should be”). It’s something that flows over into the ruminatively picked title track (“Every year about this time/I think of all the places/I could live my life/Every year I drive around/Scope out the towns/Thinking is this where I wanna be found?…” Every place that I wake up/I wonder what it looks like here when the economy’s rough/Do All the shops close down/Do the people who grew up here still wanna live in this town?”).

She has a wry line in playful humour in addressing her insecurities, as evidenced in the whimsical ‘Dog Or Lover’ (“I want a dog/‘Cause I want a dog to be on my team/I want a team/‘Cause I don’t have a lover/

I want a team more than I want a lover or a dog, though one could lead to the other”) and its contradictions in never quite knowing what you actually want (“I want to be around people/I want to stay at home/I want to make money being around people but at home”) or what decisions to take (“I want a dog or a lover because I want them to make choices for me because if I knew all the choices I do indeed have/It would be so overwhelming”). She makes neurosis seem positively endearing.

A similar insecurity bubbles through ‘Break The Ice’, a recollection of not knowing where to put herself or what to say on meeting a musical idol (“If we had met on the porch/One summer night/I invited you in to have a bite/You and my roommate are friends/From fiddle camp/By the stove your reputation/Isn’t relevant/But instead I’m standing here/Merch-side post-show…I’m begging you to validate/My personhood and I feel naked”) and somehow feeling resentful of they make her feel (“I am projecting on you/That you are too proud to see me/I gave you some/Power o’r me/And I want to/Have it back”).

It’s back to awkward schooldays for ‘Bringing This Up’ (“I have a memory/Of being thirteen/And the boys didn’t like me/Or the ones I liked couldn’t see me/Or they could see but they didn’t like me/Cuz they were gay/I have a memory/Of wondering why the guys that I felt such kinship with/Couldn’t see me as someone to make out with even though I’d be into it”) which opens out into wondering why the latest object of her affection also doesn’t see her (“There could be someone else, you could be going through a crisis of mental health, or any other number of things, but there’s one that historically rings true for me”), resolving that it’s not a gay thing, just personal (“At the risk of sounding like a homophobe/ I just want to make sure you are sure /You’ve deconstructed your perception of gender and even after that/It remains an undeniable fact/That you don’t like me”).

Set to a jazzy guitar line and samba-like sway, she says ‘Girl On My Shoulder’ was written through the lens of reminiscing on a past love (“It’s a strange thing to realize that he would have made a nice one to hold/When we’re old and wrinkly”), but at its heart she says it’s the idea “that my younger self had my best interest in mind, and that I still have access to that truth within me”, she just needs to find that voice again (“When I was younger I knew myself/And knew what I deserved/When I was younger I trusted myself/To act on what I observe/Now that I’m older/I could use a little of that girl on my shoulder”).

The idea that love can not just be a bumpy road but also a dead end street underpins the floral imagery of ‘Wallflower’(“You adored my petals as my tangled roots stayed still/I knew I was beautiful on the windowsill/Beyond the pane the wild colors let me know/That flowers need some room to grow”), not so much as the shy outsider but feeling as being seen as decorative rather than a garden worth tending.

The choppy percussive lilting ‘Weatherman’ again deals in metaphors and the inability to make choices (“I made a call to the time temp and weather phone/Hoping someone would be there and tell me where I’m goin’/Is it raining out there in western Hollywood?/If so I’ll stay right here where my life is good”), cultivating yet more horticultural imagery (“looking out of my window/At the reverie of watching how the garden grows/But my mind is wandering to my mortality/If I could bloom, which climate would be best for me?”).

Where I Wanna Be ends with the brief prairie skies campfire strumalong ‘When Will We Know? and the simple question “When will we know if what we’re doing is right?” Like a younger Janis Ian with a more whimsically self-deprecating disposition rather than crushing angst, I’d say it’s pretty clear what she’s doing is definitely right.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Weatherman’ – official video:

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