Decisions…can’t make ‘em, at least not quickly. I envy the folks who can change course almost instantaneously. Me, I’ll get buried in the possible downfalls of each course of action. That’s the idea behind the title of Alex Mabey’s latest album, The Waiting Room. The Nashville-via-Washington State singer-songwriter based the album on a series of slow-coming decisions that resulted in the break-up of her marriage, partially in hopes of allowing others to leave their own “waiting rooms” of indecision.
Mabey’s story includes illnesses for both partners (autoimmune disease for her, alcoholism and PTSD for her husband), and the resulting trauma that proved too much for a marriage to endure. The acoustic “Someone Like Me” was the last song written for The Waiting Room, but it leads off the album by laying out that story and essentially stating the mission of this record – “I hesitate to sing this song/’Fraid of what you’ll think/But I’ll set you down to help someone like me.” It’s also one of several places where Mabey touches on religion – “But I been in love with Jesus/Since I was seven years old” – and indicates that her faith, along with strength and a sense of self-preservation, helped pull her through her dilemma. “Shepherd on the Mountain” also hits on this guiding force – “You are the shepherd of this lamb/You are the keeper of my heart” – in two versions, a full-band cut and a piano-only take which puts Mabey’s pain front and center.
The Waiting Room largely deals with the collapse of the marriage from Mabey’s perspective. The mournful “When the Soul Dies” is a stand-out track that warns of the “ghosts” we become if we live with the trauma and mess for too long – “We were both trapped/In fences that grew into towers.” But the most notable moments on the record dive into the perspectives of the other casualties of a painful break-up. The mandolin-tinged “Fighting Waves” is an honest (and admirable) assessment of what that husband, struggling to keep life together, must have felt – “I’m drownin’ in your memory/I hope it don’t take everything” – while clinging to a life that never really was. And the quietly heartbreaking “Irely Sue,” named for the daughter that the couple never had, realizes that the cost of a broken marriage goes beyond the years already invested – “We’ll never get the family that we wanted/If he takes the road of wasted time.”
In the end, Alex Mabey meets her promise to help guide others through their own difficult transitions in the song “Wait,” which wraps the record. It’s a prayer of sorts, with Mabey handling lead and harmony vocals backed by strings while finding herself in that titular “waiting room.” Folks that show up there may be seeking answers to different questions, but they all have a common need – help, which, to Mabey, is as essential as air or, well, water – “Wait for the one who will save/Gonna bring you water.” Once you find that help and are able to hear that answer, leaving the waiting room is the first decision to make in the process of healing and moving on.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Canary” – banjo and strings echo the foreboding found in Mabey’s likening of a decaying marriage to a caged bird in a coal mine. Nate Dugger tops it off with an appropriately ragged guitar solo.
The Waiting Room was produced by Alex Mabey and Casey Wasner, mixed by Wasner and mastered by Tommy Wiggins. All original songs written by Mabey, with co-writes going to Jason Paradise and Tony Lucca (the album includes a cover of Patty Griffin’s “Up to the Mountain”). Additional musicians on the album include Wasner (drums, acoustic guitar), Paradise (acoustic guitar), Lucca (harmonies), Brian Allen (bass), Nate Dugger (electric and acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin), Krisitn Wilkinson (viola), Kristin Weber (violin), Emily Nelson (cello), Pete Wasner (piano) and David Rogers (string arrangements).
Go here to order The Waiting Room (out February 17): https://orcd.co/djxdbnd
Check out tour dates here: https://www.alexmabey.com/shows