Cut from the Hopeless
Amy Pickard's songs are as raw and complex as Loretta Lynn singing Edgar Allan Poe's lyric poems. Like Lynn, Pickard grew up in the southern Appalachians, and Pickard can whisper or laugh or scream without sounding false or forced. Like Poe, Pickard drifted up from the South to the tense and tender streets of Philadelphia. There, Pickard fronted the country band She-Haw through seven years, three records and tours with Alejandro Escovedo, Laura Cantrell, and Jason Ringenberg. "Cut from the Hopeless," her first solo album, is a record of nine tracks, nine kinds of loneliness. Formal and free of self-pity, Pickard's songs tell of sorrow not to call attention to the singer but to record the many forms sorrow takes in this world - love being the foremost. In the opening track "Ashes," she sings not of love or lovers but of Love, an incarnate, breathing, tearing, damnable thing that speaks and commands and tears "at the back of her hands." In the crystalline title track, Pickard's voice-at times a bent and knowing whisper, at times a grinning glissade-lifts a song about loneliness into a quiet anthem of endurance. Translucent and spare as the lyrics, she carries the listener not to pangs but to contemplation, and tenderness. In Pickard's songs, love is not only romance or lust but an aspirational state, a place people can no longer find. This tragic view is fiercely on display in her eerie revivification of "My Old Kentucky Home" by Stephen Foster, a Pennsylvanian who drifted South to learn the oldest American music about the lost and loved home place. "The day goes by like a shadow o'er the heart/ With sorrow where all was delight," Pickard sings. As the singer cries "good night, good night," the song achieves-perhaps for the first time in 150 years-it's original clarity, unwrapped of the layers of nostalgic misuse by vaudevillians and Kentucky politicians, and becomes again a lament for a lost world, not just for the sorrow of the individual who lost it. Pickard writes with an exquisite, nineteenth-century understanding of loss as the human condition. In her solo debut, Pickard takes the haunting harmonies and Appalachian roots of She-Haw into new and more contemporary places, crafting an unflinching album that feels simultaneously spare and lush, gracious and cutting.