Artist: Della Mae
Label: Rounder Records
Release Date: 3.15.20
Della Mae trusts in Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, just as the all-female string band has faith in the honesty of women brave enough to come forward to share their stories of being abused and tormented by predatory men. In the galvanizing title track from their impassioned and indomitable fourth album, Headlight, they sing, “They may not believe you/But I do,” and the line hits like a velvet hammer swung by the Dixie Chicks.
Building slowly in a sweeping march of martial drums, seesawing violins and gently cycling mandolin, it’s a thrilling swell of protest Americana that carries Ford aloft in triumph, declaring her the clear winner of the contentious Brett Kavanaugh Senate confirmation hearings. To Della Mae, Ford is, indeed, “a headlight in this dark night,” showing the way for women damaged by similar ordeals but unwilling to stay silent. Perhaps emboldened by Ford’s display of courage, the Grammy Award-nominated trio of Celia Woodsmith, Kimber Ludiker and Jenni Lyn Gardner have evolved musically on the ambitious awakening Headlight, where lyrics combining bold, heartfelt political statements with deeply personal introspection are delivered vocally with great force, fearlessness and beautiful yearning.
Without abandoning the bluegrass elegance and earthiness that’s gotten them this far, they’ve added elements such as drums, keyboards and electric guitar in welcoming a host of guest musicians to help flesh out their sound and whisk it away to places they’ve longed to visit. Vivid, vibrant and uplifting, Headlight is Della Mae’s most fully realized record to date, breaking free of expectations with the lush, bittersweet country pop of “The Long Game” and the cleverly written “The Odds of Getting Even,” both reminiscent of Jimmy Webb’s collaborations with Glen Campbell, and the luxurious country soul of “It’s About Time” and “Working,” featuring the glowing harmonies of The McCrary Sisters.
If the deeply moving “Change” – written by Wood & Wire’s Tony Kamel – assumes the ghostly form of an old, prayerful spiritual, it’s undoubtedly because Della Mae is tired of injustice and toxic masculinity. That feeling of oppression in the song is almost smothering. Kicking such weary lamentations to the curb, the trio revels in the swaggering, stomping defiance of “Wild One,” throwing down a rowdy gauntlet of traditional instrumentation in an unapologetic toast to fierce womanly individuality. Their folky joy and spirit is contagious, as is the woozy, old-timey sway of “First Song Dancer,” a smiling tribute to concertgoers that bring a good, positive energy to shows. Maybe all of these qualities will bring more people around to their way of thinking.