We all want that feeling of “connecting” with our favorite musician. There’s a gratifying rush (and, often, a simultaneous twinge of sadness) when a lyric hits us in a delicate spot. Usually, it’s because the artist has drawn from their own experiences to write those words, and it happens to dovetail to a degree to something you or I might have also experienced. Texan Ali Holder has taken that a step further, taking on the burdens of others and making them her own. On her latest release, Uncomfortable Truths, the singer-songwriter both acknowledges her privileged position and boldly vows to use it to help others.
Before wrestling with the fates of others, Holder does a little bit of introspection. The first two tracks on Uncomfortable Truths look at two sides of marriage. “Take Me As I Am,” wages a (mostly internal) battle for independence – “In the chain of evolution/Not needing a man/It’s a gift handed down.” The tune is dark, offset by plinking from a toy piano (the album is sprinkled with unusual instrumentation). “Bad Wife” finds the singer castigating herself for considering her options – “I live in a duality/I’m in my head entertaining/Every other possibility.” Her inner voice, which is surely informed by society’s expectations, is criticizing her inability to be the “perfect” wife, when the only “sin” she’s really committing is simply being a confused human being.
After looking at herself, Holder turns much of the rest of the album outward. “Speak 1” is the first of four short musical vignettes advocating for others who can’t speak – in this case, she takes up for victims of domestic and racial violence: “I dunno what it feels like/To be afraid for my life/Just for being who I am.” Holder, though, promises to give a voice to that fear – “I will lift your voice up as if it were mine.” The tune has a heavy indie vibe and ends in a swirling, Smashing Pumpkins-ish coda (Holder plays much of the guitar on the album). “Speak”s 2, 3 and 4 address the lack of a social safety net, physical and mental health, and personal boundaries. Each features a different musical approach but contains the same guarantee: “I can’t speak for you/But I can speak to/Using my privilege.”
The other conceit on Uncomfortable Truths is the concept of La Loba, a Pueblo myth who collects bones and brings spirits back from the underworld. In “Bruja” (which translates roughly to “witch”), Holder sings of 300 women disappeared via the Mexican Cartel. With music that evokes a spare desert landscape, Holder again straps this burden to her back – “I was a Bruja in my last life” – and the feeling here is definitely one of revenge: “I call out/To raise the bones from the Earth…To march on the men who destroyed you.” And the album wraps with “Singing Over Bones,” a very personal appeal to all women to gather their own strength. As the music crescendos, then drops to nothing, she declares, “I will not apologize/For the wild within me.” Defiant to the end.
Uncomfortable Truths was produced by Ali Holder, Britton Beisenherz, Gregg White and Jeremy Menking. All songs were written by Holder. Additional musicians include Beisenherz (percussion, samples, string arrangement), Dees Stribling (drums, percussion), White (acoustic and electric guitars, keys, strings and samples), Menking (bass, electric guitar, lap steel) and Stephanie Macias Gibson (harmony vocals).
Ali Holder will be doing a Facebook Live stream to celebrate the release of Uncomfortable Truths on April 10: https://www.facebook.com/events/528387848099032/