2020 may end up being remembered (along with a few other noteworthy events) as the year that country finally went political. Sure, there have always been outliers, but musicians with a little twang have largely remained legislatively agnostic. Now, though, dozens of artists ignored the hew and cry to “shut up and sing,” and released strong, passionate music that has, one hopes, caused a few listeners to think a little more deeply. Austin’s Selena Rosanbalm, long a keeper of the Western Swing flame with her band, Rosie and the Ramblers, felt that the songs of her new solo album should be more personal and, yes, political. Selena Rosanbalm features both semi-traditional country and garage rock, carving out a new niche for herself in the Austin scene.
The album’s lead single, “Patriot,” is the most outwardly political track on the record, and it sets up a new sound for the erstwhile Rosie. The song, co-written with her guitar player, Cat Clemons III, attaches good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll to Rosanbalm’s pissed-off look at our country, where we send our kids off to school with “a sack lunch and a kevlar jacket.” Her main issue is the state of denial some of our neighbors seem to be in – blindly proud in a country where so much is wrong right now. “We welcome all the races/But the ones that aren’t white” and “They call him a nepotist/A tax-evading narcissist/But I think he’s doing fine” are but two of the problem areas mentioned in the song. Point being, patriotism is much more than just puffed-up pride.
Rosanbalm takes a look at another current in the bluesy “How Would You Paint Me.” By looking at how women have been portrayed throughout history, the singer wants us to reassess how we evaluate women today. The painted figures in the lyrics are judged on their appearance, their clothing and their “virtue.” How much of this do we internalize? In Rosanbalm’s eyes, it’s a lot – “All the images you’ve seen/Affect your images of me/You feel confused when I am/Neither this nor that.” And it turns out that this affects how the singer sees herself – “I can’t let myself go for fear of an attack/I would paint that.”
Intensely personal songs about loss bookend the album. The lead track, “Gut Punch,” is paced by some excellent slide work from Clemons as Rosenbalm sings about a friend who took his own life, relaying not just the shock that she experienced, but the utter hopelessness that he must have felt – “”Refused to entertain the thought/Everything would be okay.” And “Can You Really Be Gone” looks at that loss from down the road a piece. In a slow, sad, pretty country ballad, Rosanbalm sorts through tangible and ethereal memories, realizing that she’s never been able to say goodbye – “It’s been a few years/You echo everywhere since you’ve become unbound.” But, in noticing a resemblance between the departed friend and a family member, she’s able to find some bittersweet hope – “If your blood’s in her veins can you really be gone.” It’s not moving on, exactly, but it’s a reminder that we all leave behind a little more than we’ll ever know.
Selena Rosanbalm was arranged by the band, recorded and mixed by Andrew Hernandez and mastered by Pete Johnson. All songs were written by Rosanbalm (“Patriot” was written with Cat Clemons III). Rosanbalm’s band includes Clemons (guitars, background vocals), Lindsay Greene (bass) and James Gwyn (drums, percussion, background vocals).
Order Selena Rosanbalm here: https://selenarosanbalm.bandcamp.com/
Go here to check out Selena’s online album release show on Thursday, October 8 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekmkTu4SQuw&fbclid=IwAR1DV_vNZGYFLhSUdccBbIEmZ2B-7SJCDEhq2DZN-R6P6LunOe4gUXoByo0