Adia Victoria — A Southern Gothic
The idea that history is written by those in power is undergoing a long-overdue reckoning. Whether it’s Confederate statues being toppled in Richmond and Charlottesville, protests of police brutality in any number of cities, or musicians making the decision to require proof of vaccination of concert-goers, new voices are grabbing the microphone and demanding that we listen, and young storytellers are sharing pieces of history we’ve yet to hear. Last year, South Carolina native Adia Victoria released a single that doubled as a demand, “South Gotta Change.” Now, she’s back with her third full-length album, tellingly titled A Southern Gothic, a record full of tension, drama and new-to-you truth.
Adia Victoria’s mission statement on A Southern Gothic is to turn conventional Southern storytelling inside-out, exposing both its inherent falsehoods and its true roots.That choice is evident from word one, as the singer takes one of the most Southern of all symbols, the magnolia, and uses it to show the mysterious, ever-present draw of the South. The young woman who is central to the stories on the record goes North in “Magnolia Blues” – “I tried to be the kind of girl who never needed sh!t/I gave you all my light and I got night to show for it” – but the pull toward home never leaves her. The song introduces a level of tension, in both theme and music, that’s present throughout almost the entire album.
Victoria’s talent and unabashed honesty have drawn a number of Nashville’s big names to work with her, wanting to be part of reframing the Southern story. Sure, we might call them “allies,” but mostly, it’s just folks who want to help Victoria, in her words, “make some art.” Margo Price and Kyshona Armstrong show up on several tracks, and Jason Isbell lends a scorching slide solo to Victoria’s take on the swampy blues classic, “You Was Born To Die,” one of the old-school “woman done me wrong” songs. But it’s the previous cut that shows her talent at reverse myth-making. “Mean-Hearted Woman” is a sort of pre-murder ballad, where our protagonist is thrown out into the snow – ON CHRISTMAS MORNING! – by a man who’s decided he’s done with her. She rapidly goes through the stages of post-relationship grief – Victoria revealing why the “crazy” women in so many blues tunes end up pissed off – until she’s ready to exact her revenge – “And if you see my shadow through the pines/Babe, it’s too late it’s killing time.” Paced by a nerve-wracking acoustic guitar lick that feels like a clock ticking down, the song is a sharply focused example of all the disservice and outright slander done to young black women in traditional Southern storytelling.
We continue to follow this character through homesickness, addiction and abuse as she, and Victoria, try to make sense of their Southern-ness. “The Whole World Knows” has the preacher’s daughter shooting up on a Sunday morning. “Troubled Mind” is a slinky, twisted prayer full of couplets – “I been in that gin, Lord/I been in my sin, Lord” that are both delicious and doom-filled. “My Oh My,” featuring a hypnotic refrain from co-writer Stone Jacks Jones, is haunted by depression and loss – “How long did you wait for the sunshine/To find you deep down in the coal mine/Sister I can’t see you no more.” But it’s the album’s last track that epitomizes the push-pull relationship Southerners have with their home. While you can feel the languid humidity across most of A Southern Gothic, “South for the WInter” is lonely, sad and cold. The song, which Victoria has called the most autobiographical on the record, is simply about a young woman chasing a new life up North while realizing it’s not where she belongs – “Seems any city can make you a ghost/But New York’s the town that makes me lonely the most.” The National’s Matt Berninger shows up in an inspired guest vocal spot, but it’s Victoria’s sadness, resignation, and maybe even a spot of hope in discovering that the South is her only home which makes you understand why she wanted to tell this story in the first place. And while there’s seldom resolution for Victoria’s characters, there’s much resolve in the singer herself. Because of that, the South Gotta Change – with artists like Adia Victoria speaking up, it really has no choice.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Troubled Mind” – dark, sultry and with a searing guitar solo from Mason Hickman, sin shouldn’t be this much fun.
A Southern Gothic was produced by Mason Hickman and Adia Victoria Paul, executive produced by T-Bone Burnett, engineered by Hickman, mixed by Rachael Moore and mastered by Greg Calbi. All songs (except for Ernest B. McTell’s “You Was Born to Die”) were written by Paul, with co-writing credits going to Hickman, Stone Jack Jones and Marcello Giuliani. Additional musicians on the album include Hickman (guitar, banjo, mandolin, viola, bass, organ, synth, Rhodes, string arrangement, piano, vocals, percussion), Giuliani (guitar, banjo, mandolin, strings, bass, synth, percussion), Jones (vocals, guitar, percussion), Peter Eddins (guitar, bass, organ, Rhodes, kalimba, percussion), Kyshona Armstrong (vocals), Margo Price (vocals), Tim Beaty (drums), Joseph Scales (vocals, percussion), Jason Isbell (guitar), Jason Harris (bass), Alex Krew (cello), Raphael Chassin (drums, percussion) and Matt Berninger (vocals).
Go to Adia Victoria’s website to order A Southern Gothic (out on September 17) and to look at tour dates: https://www.adiavictoria.com/
Read Americana Highways’ interview with Adia Victoria here: https://americanahighways.org/2021/09/13/interview-adia-victoria-on-whats-new
Check Adia Victoria’s “Call & Response” podcast here: https://call-response.simplecast.com/