May Erlewine releases Second Sight on December 6th. iTunes describes the genre as Country & Folk – I’d add Rock into those two descriptions. Erlewine describes it thus, “This collection of songs is meant to draw us into what it means to call this place home……How can we fully realise a new American dream by actualising a safe and respectful home for everyone? When will everyone really mean every one of us?”. Just as Thea Gilmore’s 2017 album, The Counterweight, was a response to, and gave us a perspective on, referendum Britain, Second Sight is Erlewine’s undefeated response to the election of President Trump.
There are a number of powerful tracks on this album. ‘That’s My Home’ (in the video below) was the precursor to the album. Erlewine sat down to write to the new President and then turned the letter into this song. You could justifiably quote the lyrics of the whole song but try this as a sample, “It’s like treason/trespassing on my dreams….” which leads to the defiant (and catchy) chorus, “That’s my heart you’re setting on fire/That’s my home you’re burning/That’s my future you’re dancing on a wire/on fire” and the cracking image “I was a dancer/Now I’m struggling to move/But I will rise, I will break through/And move again”.
Erlewine says of Second Sight that, while some songs are more directly political and societal, she has worked to tie all the songs to the same broad themes. I like ‘Here We Are’ for this. Where some of the tracks rock, this one is mostly Erlewine’s voice mixed at the top of piano and other, quiet, instrumentation. Again, there are nice images for the theme of moving from emotional depths to reaffirmation, “I don’t know if I can pull them up again/Here I am/ Untethered in the wind……I struck a chord and now I’m waiting on the band”. By the end of the song, not yet certain but no longer defeated, “here I am” becomes “here we are”. Is this personal? Is this political? It’s probably just another cracking song that captures both and is played and sung with a wonderful deftness. ‘Eyes On The Road’ is similarly positioned at this boundary between personal and political. William Faulkner made an individual’s story emblematic of what happened to The South – and what happened to The South an emblem of individual’s lives; Erlewine mingles the personal and societal in a similar way.
My favourite track is ‘Whole Again’. This was written while watching the Brett Kavanagh hearings, written about women’s history, written about how women “have continued to repair and make whole what has been broken so many times”……. But I only found that feminist focus by reading around the song. The song has a broader – and immediate – impact about the human condition and the response of the undefeated. It opens with gently dramatic piano chords, drum kicking in with an unexpected beat, and the lyric:
“They pulled my grandmother’s roses/Right out of the ground/
Eighty-five years she spent/Putting those roots down/
She said it’s to be expected/it’s the way it’s always been/
We take what we are given/ and we make it whole again”
Later on, the message is “They took every ounce of truth we had/And fed it to the fire/Took our pain like novocaine/And wrote us off as liars/They burned into our history/A legacy of shame/Took every ounce of beauty/And never learned our names”. This may have been written with women in mind, but its poetry has a resonance for any of the dismissed becoming the undefeated. The lyrics conclude “I don’t know if we can make it whole again” but the semi-crescendo of the music tells you they will, maybe not easily, but calmly and with certainty. In a world often – and too loosely – described by commentators as post-truth this track comes over as a broad song of the calm leaders in our homes, in friends and family, who hold our worlds together in the face of wider societal attack on things we hold dear.
The other stand-out track is ‘Afraid’, an extended (seven minute) gospel-ish song. The song tells us what it’s going to take to move forward – building to “It’s gonna take building a bridge, not building a wall……I won’t be afraid to be me/Show me a future that I want to see/And I won’t be afraid”. Initially there is only Erlewine’s voice, but, in line with the sentiment of shared defiance to the political world, other voices join in soaring support.
Second Sight has been a slow burning album for me but it’s worth taking the time on; having listened to it a fair bit, it’s got some real fire to it.
May Erlewine is currently touring in America.
Artist’s website: https://www.mayerlewine.com
‘That’s My Home’ – official video: