The same flower that decorated the flags of the Confederate army in the American Civil War grew freely in the South Carolina neighbourhood where Adia Victoria lived as a child. Raised in a devoted Seventh Day Adventist family under the shade of a magnolia tree, it equally began to symbolise her grounding; she would go outside and cover her hands in the dirt beneath the magnolia tree to overcome her creative blocks and anxieties, and would immediately feel re-centred. The Southern gothic in music and literature has traditionally excluded women of colour from its canon, and her third album seeks to become a corrective: an antidote to an alienating world within her home, the “Christ-haunted” South and a narrative that hasn’t welcomed her in despite being wholly her own. “I’m gonna let that dirt do its work,” she sings on the opening track, “I’m gonna plant myself under a magnolia.”
In exploring the South and its heritage so intimately, though, A Southern Gothic regularly falls into imitation. Clean sweeps of easy melody move between hushed acoustic guitar ballads and swamp rock that trades pedal steel for a sound resembling Seasick Steve’s hubcap. A song that should be the album’s centrepiece – featuring Jason Isbell, Kyshona Armstrong and Margo Price – becomes so bewitched by its own influence that all nuance gets lost; when mashed potato uses the finest ingredients, it’s still mashed potato. Unlike the record’s latter stages, T-Bone Burnett’s production sounds clean and glossy, more like The Black Keys than the desired earthy, authentic Nashville sound, and Victoria’s lyrics sink into very-guessable rhyming couplets.
But there are highlights that compensate, and it’s always because of Victoria’s voice, lithely fluttering and toned like a jazz singer. The relatively possessed ‘Troubled Mind’ is carried by a disarmingly sweet delivery – a hypothetical eruption forming beneath calm waters. The gently crooned ‘Deep Water Blues’, too, is a genuinely brilliant moment: perfectly sinister, traversing Southern musical landmarks with a delicately poised threat. An unusually tender moment ends the record with The National’s Matt Berninger – whose own complicated relationship with Ohio elevates ‘South For The Winter’ above his recent collaborative work, fortifying both Victoria’s reservations and resolutions that the South is still home.
Please support Loud And Quiet if you can
If you’re a fan of what we do, please consider subscribing to L&Q to help fund our support of new musicians and independent labels
You can make a big difference for a few pounds per month, and in return we’ll send you our magazines, exclusive flexi discs, and other subscriber bonus bits and pieces
Try for a month and cancel anytime