A Southern Gothic, the new album released on September 17th by South Carolina-born and Nashville-based blues singer-songwriter Adia Victoria, contains an “ode to Southern Black folk” and music to back up her claim that she wants “to make the blues dangerous again.”
Let’s examine that dangerous music this week on Saturday Soundtrack.
Growing up in a strict Seventh-Day Adventist family, she moved around the country testing her wings before settling in Nashville where she has generations of family. In 2014, following the shooting/murder of unarmed teenager Treyvon Martin, Victoria wrote
“Stuck in the South,” a song weighted with personal and regional history. “Don’t know nothin’ bout Southern belles/But I can tell you somethin’ about Southern hell,” she sang.New York Time, February 27, 2019
That unvarnished look at her native South, through the eyes of a Black woman, comes through in Magnolia Blues from A Southern Gothic album.
The Bluegrass Situation included this quote from Victoria about the song:
“Often the only view of the South beyond my window was the magnolia tree in my backyard. It blocked the rest of the world from my sight. I limited my gaze to its limbs, its leaves and the obscene bloom of its iconic white flower.
“The magnolia has stood as an integral symbol of Southern myth making, romanticism, the Lost Cause of the Confederates and the white washing of Southern memory. ‘Magnolia Blues’ is a reclaiming of the magnolia — an unburdening if its limbs of the lies it has stood for. This song centers the narrative of a Black Southern woman’s furious quest to find her way back home to the South under the shade of her magnolia.
“‘Magnolia Blues’ is an ode to Southern Black folk — too often hemmed out of what we mean when we say ‘Southerner’ — and it is also an ode to the South itself. To rescue it from — in the words of William Faulkner — ‘a make believe region of swords and magnolias and mockingbirds which perhaps never existed.’”
Her unapologetic perspective on the South has shown through Victoria’s music since her debut album Beyond the Bloodhounds, which references the book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs, and includes songs like Howlin’ Shame.
“We need to talk about Addie Mae
I seen her walking out the other day
And I been watching that girl wilt away
Bruised back blisterin’
There ain’t no end to her sufferin’
And any good she had has gone to gray
It’s a howlin’ shame
A howlin’ shame“
Her 2016 Tiny Desk concert is from that same period, including a live version of Stuck in the South.
Different Kind of Love is from Victoria’s second, critically acclaimed album Silences. The sonic texture differs from her debut, but the poetic nature of her take on Southern life remains.
South Gotta Change is a powerful 2020 single produced by T. Bone Burnett (who also produced A Southern Gothic) that Victoria described in a release as “a prayer, an affirmation, and a battle cry all at once. It is a promise to engage in the kind of ‘good trouble’ John Lewis understood necessary to form a more perfect union.”
“You’ve been running from the ghost
You keep it hidden in your past
The veil before your face is falling, and it’s falling fast
I won’t go blindly in the night
I would drag you to the light
I stood up to the mountain
Told the mountain, “Say my name”
And if you’re tired of walking
Let the children lead the way
‘Cause I love you, I won’t leave you
Won’t let you slip away
Come what may
We’re gonna find a way
The South gotta change
The South gotta change“
Mean-Hearted Woman from A Southern Gothic tells you that Victoria means business when she says she wants to make the blues dangerous again!
Finally, Adia Victoria is also a strong interpreter of songs by other artists, including this version of Fiona Apple’s A Mistake.
For readers in the Nashville area, Victoria is appearing on October 24 at the Ryman Auditorium.
Adia Victoria has much to say, and is worth your time.
More to come…
Image: Adia Victoria | Red Light Management