Letitia VanSant is an American activist whose first album, Gut It To The Studs, has a UK release date of August 28th. Gut It To The Studs is Americana rather than folk, but the lyrics focus on modern-day spiritual and political concerns as much as the ‘folk revival’ did in the sixties. All but one of the songs on the album were written by VanSant.
The album opens with ‘Where I’m Bound’, a modern and personal take on the ‘New Adam’ view of American culture. The song tells of a dying mother’s advice to follow a path on which you can be guided by your heart, not by the fool’s gold of modern life; you should do this for yourself and so that “Slowly others will follow on the trail that you made/On their dark journeys they won’t be so afraid/For you travelled not by sight/But by your certain faith”. VanSant’s vocal plays well against the band, particularly the vocal clarity against the bass on this track.
The title track follows. Gutting it to the studs is a construction image about rebuilding yourself spiritually – something’s not right in life so “I’m knocking down the walls tonight/Gotta gut it to the studs”. The song works on two levels being a political song which references people risking all in fragile boats, but is also, I suspect, a personal song – VanSant has given up a secure career to become a professional musician. Both these songs are lyrically and musically strong and you can see why VanSant has won serious songwriting competitions. The beautifully sparse final track, ‘Sundown Town’ has a simple vocal and guitar arrangement that makes the bleak tale of a sundown town (where black people weren’t welcome after dark) all the stronger. While I’ve enjoyed listening to the rest of the album, VanSant’s other songs don’t have quite the same power as these three to meld the strength of the subject with the music. The cover track is Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’, of which VanSant says, “We owe so much to the people who fought for justice in decades past….I recorded this as a reminder to myself that the present moment is just as critically important to our nation’s history”.
What I like about this album is that it continues the ethical struggles in song of past generations and it has several tracks in which you can hear VanSant’s distinctive talent; what I’ve also found is that, much as I like both VanSant’s voice and the band/arrangements, as I’ve talked about Gut It To The Studs to other people I’ve largely focused on the album as social comment.
VanSant is only touring in the USA at the moment, so try the title song for yourself in the video link below.
Artist’s website: https://www.letitiavansant.com
‘Gut It To The Studs’ – live: