REVIEW: Stephanie Lambring’s “Autonomy” is Deep Honesty and Sharp Daggers


We’re dealt a lot of misinformation by adults and authority figures when we’re young. Often, it’s harmless white lies or jokes (when I was a kid, an older cousin-in-law told me that magnetic chess pieces would stick to my nose. For the rest of the evening, I was both dubious and slightly terrified). Sometimes, though, the prevarication is damaging, hurtful and destructive, and the damage done, if not repaired, can inform the way we live our lives. Indiana native Stephanie Lambring takes on the lies, the devastation, and the beginning of the resurrection on her new album, Autonomy, a record that bounces between mourning her lost childhood and defying the bad influences of adulthood.

Lambring spent five years on Nashville’s Music Row, primarily writing songs for other singers before ditching the biz, traveling, and working “grown-up” jobs until music pulled her back, this time on her own terms. The clarity that comes from that type of break-and-return is probably what allowed Lambring to pen a song like “Daddy’s Disappointment,” the album’s lead track. The mid-tempo rocker lists any number of ways a child can disappoint a parent, from lying about grades to bad boyfriends. The kicker, though, happens when Dad finds her singing and moves to co-opt her gift, essentially pimping her for gigs until “my little dream wasn’t mine anymore.” Even when she finds moderate success later, she can’t enjoy it – “Just a pawn in a game I never wanted to play.”

Other songs on the record address more universal limits that Lambring has pushed up against. “Pretty,” a slow ballad framed by gentle guitar, tells of the problems faced by young girls (and young women) who aren’t “perfect.” The fifth grader who’s called “fat girl” becomes a teenager who’s bulimic, then an adult who sometimes can’t help but judge herself by an impossible standard – “I step up and let some number/Make it a good or bad day.” Later, in “Little White Lie,” she finds out how easy falsehoods are to tell and how damaging they can be when the singer finds herself smiling through a wedding that’s less than wanted – “I said it was the happiest day of my life/Then I slipped into the Sunday school room and cried.” All of life’s expectations come to a head in this moment, when she figures out that what she’s been told isn’t what she needs – “Everything that I wanted I never wanted at all.”

Lambring saves her deepest honesty and sharpest daggers for unrelenting religion. The standout tune on the record, “Joy of Jesus,” feels somber and foreboding and features some of the worst types of Christians: the judger of morality (“You’re just a whore, but Jesus is Lord”) and the gay-shamer (“God don’t make faggots, son/It’s a habit of your sinful generation.” To Lambring, though, this is the antithesis of Jesus. Rather, she imagines a kind, caring soul – “For we do not have a high priest who cannot empathize with all our weaknesses.” It’s this kind of light at the end of the tunnel that Lambring might wish to see for the character in the album’s closer, “Birdsong Hollow.” Over strummed acoustic guitar and a layer of keys, she sings of a young man, ostracized and aiming to take his own life. Lambring’s voice is down to almost a whisper at the end as the boy’s father finds him – too late – after he casts himself over a bridge with a sign that reads, “Call anytime – There is still hope.” Sadly, not for this man, but if we’re kinder in our words to our kids, maybe that sign on the bridge won’t be needed anymore.

Autonomy was produced and mixed by Teddy Morgan and mastered by Richard Dodd. All songs were written by Stephanie Lambring. Additional musicians on the album include Morgan (acoustic and electric guitar, mellotron, omnichord, organ, bass, percussion), Shannon Wright (vocals), Fred Eltringham (drums), Tom Blankenship (bass), Ben Parks (drums), Stephen Daniel King (bass) and Drew Belk (steel guitar).

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