Single Review Roundup: Vol. 3, No. 4

Adia Victoria

Four excellent records in this roundup, with Adia Victoria and Jason Hawk Harris receiving the highest marks.


“Went For a Ride”

Adia Victoria

Written by Radney Foster and Alice Randall

JK: Adia Victoria’s art is about reclaiming blues music for Southern black women via a studied mastery of the forms and a refusal to apologize for taking back something that was stolen. Some of her finest moments on record capture the very specific feeling of menace that is constant in the lives of black women in contemporary America; even more thrilling are her songs that turn that danger back upon those who would dare to try to oppress her. Truly, she is a force in contemporary music.

Who better, then, to cover “Went For A Ride,” for the forthcoming album that pays tribute to the songs of Alice Randall, the first black woman to write a #1 country hit? “Went For A Ride” is a song about reframing narratives that romanticize white America’s doctrine of Manifest Destiny and marginalize the stories of other groups who were very much present and involved in westward expansion and the proverbial wild, wild West.

Radney Foster cut this song a lifetime ago, and, as great an artist as Foster was and is, Victoria renders his version of the song unrecognizable. And that’s the point, really: Even a well-intentioned white man is going to bring a fundamentally different experience and worldview to a song like this one. The first line of the chorus, on which Randall uses blunt language to dispel any fairytale imagery (“It wasn’t cowboys and ponies / It was horses and men / It wasn’t schoolboys and ladies / It was cow-towns and sin”) is a marvel of the power of language. 

Victoria snarls those lines with utter contempt for anyone who ever got it wrong, over bass-rattling blues licks buried deep in the mix that, rightfully, sound like they’re rocking the earth off its foundations. By the time she reaches the final chorus, she’s enlisted what sounds like a chorus of spectres of the POC who’ve been erased from this era of American history. Victoria won’t let anyone forget that the inhabitants of those western ghost towns were never all white, and she’ll “swear at the Devil” without flinching to make her point. A

KJC: Radney Foster’s Del Rio, TX 1959 album is one of my favorites from that era, and Victoria’s version of “Went For a Ride” is so radically different from that recording that I didn’t recognize it on first listen.

When sung from Foster’s experience, he sounded like a cowboy along for the ride, studying under the tutelage of these horses and men.  Victoria brings the darkness of the lyric to the surface, as she sings with the righteous anger of those who were erased from the history books as the cowboy ideal was elevated into something pure and good.  Those crushed under their boots would like a word, and they’re finally being heard.  A


“The Risk You Take”

Jason Hawk Harris

Written by Jason Hawk Harris

KJC:  Following up his exquisite meditation on grief, Jason Hawk Harris returns with a poignant plea for love from a woman that prefers safety over risk, especially in matters of the heart.

He strikes a careful balance here.  He essentially signs and initials all of her doubts about him, but still encourages her to let him be the risk that she takes.  It’s sensitive and self-aware, so much so that it seems a risk worth taking by the end of the song.  Anyone who can see his own faults so clearly must be ready to leave them behind, right?  A

JK: It’s such a challenge to be a clever songwriter who can subvert the conventional use of a phrase or who can rely on wordplays to make a greater point. So many who try end up lapsing into a self-conscious irony or simply come across as unbearably twee. It’s the line that separates the Jasons Isbell and Mraz, and “The Risk You Take” is another spectacular piece of songwriting that places Hawk Harris in the former’s company.

What I love about the specific brand of romanticism in “The Risk You Take” is that it emphasizes the agency of the object of Harris’ affections. He’s pleading his case, but he’s doing so in a way that isn’t emotionally manipulative or ingratiating. He’s self-deprecating, to be sure, but there’s a sincerity to Harris’ delivery that is key to making sure his message lands. It’s a different tone and theme than what he struck on Thin Places, our 2023 Album Of The Year, but it’s no less effective or affecting. God, this guy is good. A


“Comin’ Out Swingin’”

Kyshona & Kelvin Armstrong

Written by Kyshona and Kelvin Armstrong

JK: It would be easy for Kyshona to rely on the power and technical precision of her voice, but what I love most about “Comin’ Out Swinging” are her phrasing choices. The way she alternates between a staccato, scat-singing delivery and longer phrases that span the line breaks in the lyrics is like a boxer, continuously shuffling their stance before planting their feet to deliver a knockout punch. 

For her part, Kyshona is eager to make an impression with her powerful music. While the lyrics here do lean perhaps a bit too heavily on clichés of self-empowerment and competition, it’s also clear that Kyshona is a major talent. When she sings, “I’m placing my bet on me,” there’s no doubt that her bet is going to pay off. A-

KJC:  We’ve heard this empowerment anthem before.  There’s something about the boxing imagery that just lends itself perfectly to metaphors about human resilience.

So it’s all about the attitude here, and Kyshona delivers, infusing boilerplate statements about grim determination with her fiery grit.  Her sense of self on this record erases any doubt. She will persevere and thrive.  You going to argue with that voice?  B+



Wedding Day

Lori Rayne

Written by Victoria Janelle Gater

KJC:  Lori Rayne has a rich and expressive voice, with an especially effective lower range, and she puts it to full use on “Wedding Day.”

The conceit here is that the man from her past that she never let go of, yet couldn’t quite bring herself to call, is now reaching out to her. She proceeds to tell him everything that she’s been holding back, pouring her heart out to him and expressing her desire for them to be together again.

Except she says all of that in her head, as the chorus reveals what she actually said to him on the phone: “Congratulations on your wedding day.”

It’s a brilliant setup that plays with narrator reliability for emotional impact, recalling the most sophisticated narratives from Patty Loveless’ nineties heyday.  A

JK: What a great discovery Rayne is: I wasn’t familiar with her prior to this week, but I’m already obsessed with her voice. I’m a sucker for a rich alto, and the way Rayne capitalizes on her exquisite tone makes her an immediate standout among her contemporaries. 

Kevin’s spot-on with the Patty Loveless comparison: The construction on “Wedding Day” is fully on-par with the Matraca Berg, Gretchen Peters, and Kim Richey songs Loveless was routinely cutting in her heyday. My only quibble is the use of a distracting snap-track, but even that would make “Wedding Day” a natural fit for a radio playlist that would be made so much better for its inclusion. A-


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