A feminist, essayist, political activisit and queer singer-songwriter from Portland, the product of a small town upbringing among working women who taught her to stand her ground, be independent and read cards, Potulsky sings of rebellion and resilience and says her work, musical and otherwise, is about encouraging people to take back the power they give away.
Formerly singer with alt-country outfit Thin Rail, she launches her self-released and self-promoted solo debut with 'Maudie's Lament' (named for and about her grandmother), a raw blues, slow burn, drawled account of a cheating husband and a break up, that mixes vulnerability ("I ain't made out of steel, I'm made out of bone and I break") with the middle finger ("I saw you with that woman on Saturday night I didn't get jealous she wasn't my type, but I'm sick to death of all your lies, I was born in the evening but it wasn't last night.") in a way that would have brought a smile to Janis Joplin.
It then switches to chugging old-school country with 'I Miss The Train', a lament for the demise of America's mining towns of her grandmother's day and the railways that served them that comes with a dobro and fiddle solos mid-section, a nostalgia that echoes in the similarly musically inclined 'My Hometown'.
Stained with plangent guitar and weeping steel, 'Get Out' is a powerful, number veined with menace that stems from memories of being trapped in a house on fire but would seem to suggest other readings in its lines "You hear them come up the stairs. You're still screaming and nobody hears … Can't go home. Can't go on. Can't tell anyone", vocally and musically soaring as she hits the chorus refrain of "Kick and scream punch and shout, Get out. Get out. Get out."
Divorce is a country staple and Potulsky files for hers in good form with 'If I Were You', a duet with, appropriately enough, ex-husband Clark, a playful wry humour informing lines like "you keep the new car, I'll keep the wreck. Judge says to give you, half of my paycheck." There's even mention of a dog and a truck.
Death too regularly haunts the genre, and there's two poignant visitations here. Simply strummed on acoustic guitar with fiddle accompaniment and based on a friend's experience, 'Baby Mine' is a heartbreaking mother's story about the loss of an infant at birth, followed by the self-explanatory unaccompanied southern spiritual 'Daddy's Gone' seeking consolation through faith in the hereafter.
As previously noted, as a child she was taught to read the cards, and she uses this for the narrative foundation of 'Rumble Seat', a train rhythm storysong with spare bluesy guitar that tells of three girls who visit the local tarot reader and their subsequent fates on the railway track.
There's a personal note too behind the mournful, slow 'What If You Don't', written for friends who joined the National Guard, with its weeping pedal steel, Potulsky's voice gathering power as she observes "It's not peace we're after, it's still blood, it's still oil" the track building to a fiddle and guitar-bolstered chorus crescendo.
Conjuring a similar southern gothic musical mood to Gretchen Peters' 'Blackbirds', the title track, inspired by her great aunt but ultimately a comment on the way others see her, comes early into the album, a stark what you see is what you get confessional to an inquisitive unidentified other of being "covered up in scars burn marks on my hands trouble in my heart", underpinned by aching pedal steel and ending with the striking line of "Stop tearing me apart. There is nothing to see. This house has gone dark."
But, if darkness and loss permeate the bulk of the album, it ends on an optimistic, hopeful note with the slow dancing acoustic 'Ferris Wheel' and the singer's fantasy of about the county fair, a "simple girl from a southern town" and "a rambling man", ooohing into fade out and whistled note following its final verse where she declares:
I'm gonna fall in love just one last time
I'm gonna steal his heart and I'm gonna give him mine
When we're old and gray, gonna smile real wise
Take a long look back, say thanks for the good life
Already a strong contender for my year's best list, you really do want to know about her too.
|Great Western Tears: Tales From Tallows||Little Barrie: Death Express|
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