REVIEW: On “If Only There Was a River,” Anna St. Louis Combines Alternative and Country Influences

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I finished playing Anna St. Louis’s If Only There Was A River and I launched an “early alternative” playlist on Spotify. In a truly bizarre coincidence, Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” started playing immediately. I noticed that St. Louis’s album bears a distinct similarity to Mazzy Star. This is no figment of my imagination. While recording her album, St. Louis played a lot of Mazzy Star and Willie Nelson’s Red-headed Stranger.

With its debt to ’90s alternative, If Only belongs to a group of exceptional albums taking alt-country in new, interesting, and experimental directions (Odetta Hartman’s Old Rockhounds Never Die,  Christian Kjellvander’s Wild Humans). With bare yet atmospheric production (by King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas), St. Louis’s haunting album crosses genres to be equally at home with both folk and indie rock. If Only There Was A River achieves both a rustic authenticity and a lushness, and those two qualities seem like they shouldn’t be possible in the same album. A few years from now, we may look back on these albums as having been the bleeding edge of a new trend in alt-country.

Over the opening lines of the lead track, “Water” (“how deep’s the water? you say its not
how long’s it flowing? you say its gone”) a steel guitar plays in the background, adding a classic high lonesome feel to St. Louis’s mournful voice. The instrumentation here never overpowers that voice, nor the intelligent, poetic lyrics that it sings. Rather, they complement it, enhancing the mood they create. Justin Thomas’s (Night Shop) unobtrusive drum work blends seamlessly into the background.

While Anna St. Louis had released some earlier recordings, appropriately titled First Songs, If Only is her first LP. As her debut LP, If Only is a fantastic start for St. Louis, who toured with Waxahatchee in late summer/early fall. (In full disclosure, I attended one of those shows, at DC’s Miracle Theatre.) This Los Angeles-based musician has something to say and a voice that can say it. While she had help from her collaborators in producing this record, one gets the sense that the vision driving this record comes from St. Louis’s unique influences and perspective. It’s fresh, bold, exciting stuff.   See for yourself, right here:  https://annastlouis.bandcamp.com/

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