As welcoming and accepting a genre as there is, Americana borrows its name from a nation that doesn’t always practice those same values. Not everyone feels as “at home” here as does, say, the straight, white, middle-aged guy writing this. Naomi Westwater grew up on Cape Cod and still lives in the Boston area – a strange place for a biracial queer woman to find herself. On her EP, Feelings, she explores her complex, and complicated, identity, then asks listeners to ponder their own place in the world.
Feelings begins with the song “Home,” but it’s not a warm, fuzzy tune full of memories of where she grew up. Westwater, who suffers from endometriosis, starts off with a deep-from-the-soul wail of “My body is not my home/’Cause it ain’t loving me as far as I can tell.” When the band kicks in, the song reveals itself to be an urgent, angry scream for anyone who suffers from a lengthy illness or chronic pain. Westwater nearly becomes vocally unhinged at the thought of being “just another barren woman giving up to the Earth.” Her fear of losing the ability to contribute to society because of a balky body is palpable, and it’s real for so many others.
Being able to make a difference, specifically by having something meaningful to say, is important to Westwater. “Strange Weather” was initially sparked by a badly timed downpour in Brooklyn, but Westwater turns a one-off meteorological event into a soulful missive on climate change – “Strange weather comes, but it don’t go.” Still, there are deniers, and that’s what irks Westwater the most – “There was a tornado in Springfield, just by your house/All of a sudden the wind thrashed you around” (emphasis very much hers). Somehow, even science plus personal experience doesn’t add up for these folks.
“Americana” gets to the heart of that feeling of displacement mentioned above. Raised as a mixed-race child, she finds a sense of belonging not in her native United States, but in Brazil, where she no longer has to (for a few months, at least) ask the question she repeats here, “What am I to you?” And Westwater bolsters her own strong words with the powerful images found in the Lewis Allan-penned “Strange Fruit.” The nearly century-old song, made well-known by Billie Holiday, finds Westwater singing in a hazy, dream-like state of the nightmares found in a South which failed the folks it stole from Africa – “Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze/Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees.” Has life changed for people of color in the eighty-some years since the song was written. Sure, to a degree. But the heartbreak in Westwater’s cover of “Strange Fruit” – and the very reason that she chose to record it – is found in its continued relevance.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Home” – her vocals on the intro alone are worth the price of admission.
Feelings was produced by Naomi Westwater, mixed by Dan Babai and mastered by Bella Corich. All songs were written by Westwater, except for “Strange Fruit,” which was written by Lewis Allen. Additional musicians on the album include Alex Chacon (electric guitar), Dana Roth (electric bass), Francis Pena (drums) and Cooper Evello (piano, keys).
Go here to order Feelings, out September 3rd: https://naomiwestwater.bandcamp.com/album/feelings
Check here for tour dates and events: https://www.naomiwestwater.com/live-shows