Review Summary: What if desire is a gift and not a sin?American Siren
will emotionally devastate you. Emily Scott Robinson’s stunning follow-up to Traveling Mercies
is a country gospel album without the gospel message – whatever the hell that would even be in this crazy world today. It was recorded in a church – an authentic nod to her upbringing – but I’d wager this album is to Emily Scott Robinson what Midnight Mass is to Mike Flanagan: a cautionary tale. Or really, in Robinson’s case, several of them. The tracks here play out like the songwriter’s personal book of important, often painful life lessons. The album’s most poignant ballad, “Let ‘Em Burn”, finds the songwriter at an irresistible career high - claiming her own identity (sneakily, through the perspective of a weathered housewife) as she defiantly sings of leaving “what she thought she’d be” in a pile of burning ashes. Anyone who’s paid a sliver of attention during my stint here knows how important lyrics are to me. In this regard alone, American Siren
is a storyteller album with the soul and conviction to move a damn mountain – or at the very least, to force old nerds to write gushing reviews during those late-night windows of opportunity when their kid is asleep. Nobody's too busy for an album this
Robinson wastes no time on American Siren
showing off her soaring vocals. The reflective “Old Gods” is very restrained instrumentally, allowing her airy and magnetic delivery to slowly fill the room with little distraction. On the other hand, the incredibly upbeat “Cheap Seats” has the kind of feel-good and whacky energy you’d typically expect from the likes of Miranda Lambert. It’s the perfect song for a car ride - the windows down as the seasonal air enhances the incredibly bouncy chorus. Whichever direction she takes, she does it with a level of confidence that’s never short of engaging. She also uses biting humor to make her point on several occasions. On the more playful “Things You Learn the Hard Way” she lightens the mood a bit when sarcastically belting a reminder: when Grandpa comes to dinner Lord, don’t mention politics!
Her relatable and clever anecdotes help balance out the more harrowing topics of alcoholism, divorce, and isolation. Put bluntly though, nothing will prepare you for the impact of “Hometown Hero.” Over a hushed acoustic guitar and banjo arrangement, Robinson is completely vulnerable as she dives into a very real character study of depression, and the worst possible outcome that comes from it. It’s incredibly detailed to the point of being a bit nerve-wracking, but the message it conveys is too authentic to ignore. Those with a beating heart would be wise to have some tissues around for lines like we buried you on a clear blue All Saints Day
and in a flash we lost you to the war inside your head.
It’s clear with American Siren
that Robinson isn’t concerned with getting her hands dirty as she confronts life’s most unforgiving demons without ever slowing down. Her outstanding lyricism breathes incredible life into each thoughtful number. On the more traditional Bluegrass toe-tapper ‘Old North State” she concludes the album with an irresistible love letter to nature. In lost “Lost Woman’s Prayer she croons about the importance of sisterhood. Aside from several tracks that hit you like a truck from the get-go, there are also some of those initially overlooked dark horses that take more time to appreciate. The understated “Lightning in a Bottle” reflects on the best moments of our life – picking tomato from the vine, the first cold sip of beer, summer romance – all those fleeting highlights we often take for granted and find ourselves romanticizing about down the road. As she puts it so well with that ridiculously pure voice of hers, missing life when it was easier, and love when it was magic.
As much as I adored 2019’s Traveling Mercies
, this is the moment where Emily Scott Robinson really comes alive. American Siren
is the kind of album that connects with you on a personal level, leaving all kinds of potent thoughts dancing around in your head. Few songs in recent memory have stunned me with a rushing flood of emotions like the heavy cuts here did with ease. It’s a beautiful, often brutally honest album that finds the songwriter down on her knees during life’s most chaotic moments – always thankful for the hard but necessary lessons. Even with enough vocal harmonies and religious imagery to fill the biggest mother church, Robinson makes it apparent much of her wisdom has come from within. American Siren
is a powerful statement of independence as well as a vivid photo reel of the people and places that have shaped the musician. During divided times, it’s just the kind of inspirational album we could all use more of; a confident and colorful portrayal of forging your own path through a complicated world. There’s much emphasis here about being proud of who you are – easier said than done – but most importantly, being proud of your scars. Man, what I wouldn’t give to share a drink and a few stories with Emily right about now; “American Siren” is musical therapy at its very best.