Review: Amelia White Gets Personal With Introspective 'Rhythm of the Rain'
East Nashville has a reputation as an incubator for quirky artists and left-of-center Americana artists for a reason. While gentrification and rising rents have diluted the reality of that in recent years, the sheer number of roots musicians spawned by that particular musical incubator can't be denied. Since the early 2000s, Amelia White has been a vital part of that scene, becoming a regular at the now defunct Family Wash and notching opening slots for the likes of John Prine, Brandy Clark, and Asleep at the Wheel. With her newest album Rhythm of the Rain, her seventh releasing Jan. 25, White reflects on an increasingly divided nation, as well as her own recent personal losses and gains.
The results, and resultant fallout, of the 2016 elections have been a popular subject for roots musicians in the last year, but White finds a new perspective via tour routing, which took her through the UK during the 2016 election season and allowed her to see the shock and fallout through the eyes of the world community. The result is the album's title track, a blues-guitar driven drawl that begins with a spoken “don't think too much, people” before unwinding the story of a person who find herself using a rainy British day for some self-reflection on a home she no longer recognizes.
More cutting is the album's highlight “Free Advice.” As a woman trying to make it in Nashville for 20 years, Amelia White knows a thing or two about the kind of “free advice” you get from Music City's mostly male label machine. The resulting song is the most cutting indictment of the record industry since Tom Petty's “Joe” from The Last DJ. White's drawl is perfect for lines like “find something cheap that looks good on you. A low cut blouse, a miniskirt. You'll look taller in heels that hurt” and “soften your look and toughen your act.” The blatantly sexualized nature of the advice she is given lends some extra menace to the line “don't make me say this twice. There's no such thing as free advice.”
Another standout song is “Mother of Mine.” After losing her mother, White chose not to write the typical tribute but instead to ruminate on the true relationship between a mother who “always wanted a classic little girl” and the openly lesbian tomboy who chafed against being “your dress-up dolly.” That setup could have led to a needlessly angry song but White's songwriting skill perfectly captures the complicated nest of emotions that are the truth of any familial bond. The division is there, hanging unspoken in the air above her mother's death bed, but there's also undeniable affection in White's voice when she croons “Mama, we ran out of time. I held your hand as your spirit crossed the sky.”
Elsewhere on Rhythm of the Rain, White discusses another life change, her marriage to her partner. The result is “How It Feels”, which mixes the joy of that moment with the evangelical bigotry the two faced along the way. Early in the song, White sings “Jesus died for all, gave his precious blood, but not for me”, echoing the hateful signs and slogans she encounters (along with giving a nod to Patti Smith's own reactionary line from “Gloria”), but finishes the song comfortable at home with her love, immune to the hatred from outside, and reclaiming her own happiness with the line “We've come to believe, Jesus died for all, gave his precious blood. This is how it feels, like coming home.”
After 20 years in the business, Rhythm of the Rain isn't going to be the album that makes Amelia White a mainstream country star. There are too many strong opinions, too many controversial takes, and too much lyrical nuance for radio. But one gets the sense that White is just fine with that. Every choice White makes on this album is in service of the song, the entire song, no matter into what uncomfortable territory it might take her. And, while that may never make her rich, it further cements her legacy as an East Nashville treasure worth following down any rabbit trail she chooses to explore. The journey is more than the destination, and Rhythm of the Rain plays like a leisurely trip with an old friend.
If you'd like to catch Amelia White live, she will be taking to the road in support of Rhythm of the Rain in the United States and Canada before trekking across the pond to the UK. Here are the dates:
Jan. 12- The Listening Room- Mobile, AL
Jan. 23- Album Release Show, Club Passim- Cambridge, MA
Feb. 12- Folk Alliance- Montreal, Canada
Feb. 28- Dyson House- Baton Rouge, LA
Mar. 6- Eastlake Concert Series- Columbia, MO
Mar. 7- The Americana Series at Haymarket Brewery- Chicago, IL
Mar. 10- Byron's- Pomeroy, IA
Mar. 11- Picks Gallery- Osage Beach, MO
Mar. 13- Blue Door- Oklahoma City, OK