Zesty debut from Utah folkie turned Nashville country rocker. Alicia Stockman releases These Four Walls.
Released: 5th November 2021
Record label: Self Released (Bandcamp)
Format: CD / Digital
It’s proving quite a fertile week or two for female singer-songwriters of an americana bent, as, hot on the heels of Margo Cilker, here is another one to watch and listen out for. Hewn from a decidedly rockier background than Cilker, derived from the years of service Stockman gave to sticky carpet rock and roll bar bands, this is her first full length release. Starting her solo career with rather more laid back material, this now sees her sound recalling the lure of an electric setting. With a band that sound familiar with the material, material seeming honed on live performance, rather than just hired hands, she has Mary Bragg, similar kindred spirit of a year or three back, at the production desk, giving an overall sound that is solid and tuneful. The 10 songs, all bar one coming under the four minute mark, pack a sizeable punch, with her vocals at times akin to Lilly Hiatt. At other times, especially in slower mode, she reminds a little of the recently deceased Nanci Griffith, at the time when she too was young and starting out. Those comparisons no small beer, her songs hark also back to her self acknowledged influences of the Indigo Girls and Patty Griffin.
No messing, the set kicks off with ‘Stay Between the Lines’, shimmery guitar, drenched in reverb, with chiming steel also setting the scene, before Stockman’s voice comes in, Mary Bragg adding some sepulchral backing vocals behind her. Not a moment too soon, the engine room kicks in with a near motorik beat, driving the song forward, towards triumphal conclusion, peppered by blistering guitar, with this and the steel guitar courtesy one Josh Kaler, a veteran of the Nashville sessions scene, and sometime member of Dar Williams’ live band.
Thereafter, sticking close to that template, songs vary sufficiently in mood and timbre to keep interest alive, the rhythm section of Jordan Perlson (drums) and Own Biddle (bass) always prominent in the mix. Cracking open the c.v.s of the band it seems, against the impression, that this actually has been convened and created for this record, which makes the cohesiveness of their performance all the more impressive: Perlson is a cross genre powerhouse, with credits ranging from Snarky Puppy to Matisyahu with Biddle having performed for Aaron Lee Tasman Heather Nova and, applicably, Lilly Hiatt.
Highlights are many, but include the pensive ‘Used To the Cold’, where the Griffith comparison comes to the fore, over a piano and steel backing, her own acoustic guitar a constant metronome. It is a galling song anecdoting how alcohol can destroy a relationship: “Isn’t it strange how we all get used to the cold?” ‘These Four Walls’ is a moving treatise on mental health, with ‘Halfway to Houston’ another lonesome steel sad song. Perhaps a sister song to ‘By The Time I Get to Phoenix’, if from a female perspective, it begs attention from any background distraction so as to get the full weight of the emotional heft. Phenomenal.
Elsewhere there is a change of texture, with Jon Estes supplying some elegiac cello to a couple of tracks, of which ‘Just Checking In’ is particularly effective. For me the only sore thumb is the somewhat slighter jug band stomp of ‘Sweeten the Deal’, all ukuleles and harmonica, the sort of thing Maria Muldaur does in her sleep. Estes, now playing stand up bass, does however manage to redeem it from being entirely throwaway. Strangely, the other song with harmonica, Jelly Roll Jackson, a slow blues, ‘Lonely Together’ comes together far more successfully; maybe Stockman is just more convincing when her chips are down. Such is often the case in the sounds of Music City, USA.
This is a powerful debut, the largely strong selection of songs laying down her credentials as one to watch. With the thrust of a major label picking up on this, I have little doubt she could become as well known as the names she checks as her stimuli to play and perform.
Here’s ‘Halfway to Houston’ from Alicia Stockman.