A solo artist, Lucy Dacus recorded her debut album, No Burden, alongside guitarist and bandmate, Jacob Blizzard and producer Collin Pastore.
No Burden is an eclectic set of tracks, drifting from driving power-pop, through more classic singer-songwriter territory, incorporating elements of minimal folk and lush Americana. The constant that holds the record together is Lucy’s vocal, always mixed front and centre, it highlights her skills as an honest and poetic lyricist, comparisons to Sharon Van Etten and Torres seem inevitable and richly deserved.
Although much of Lucy’s debut album was recorded in Nashville, Lucy hails for Richmond, Virginia. With a population of just over 200,000, Richmond just creeps into America’s 100 Biggest Cities, and is the fourth most populous city in Virginia. Although almost wiped out during the Civil War, Richmond emerged strongly thanks to the presence of canals, railroads and one of the first electric streetcar systems, becoming a city in 1871. Famous musicians from the city contain art-metal band GWAR and R&B singer D’Angelo, while the late-great Mark Linkous, aka Sparklehorse, lived in the city for a period.
Only 21 years old, as ever with solo artists it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when they started writing songs, but Lucy began performing live whilst at College in Richmond. Her debut album, No Burden, originally came out on Richmond label, EggHunt Records, before gathering the attention of Matador Records, who re-released No Burden earlier this month.
Adopted as a young child, Lucy puts many of her philosophies on life down to the experience, “When my parents were explaining what adoption was—which was very early on in my childhood—they always said that my birthmother thought I was worthwhile even though she couldn’t be my mom,” she says. “And so from essentially infancy, I was taught that life was innately worthwhile because a bunch of people had worked together to set me up with one.” This idea permeates into her songwriting throughout, and manifolds itself as a intimate understanding of the human condition, both our natural desire to live the most worthwhile life possible and an acceptance of the problems that can stop us doing so.
As you’d perhaps expect from a debut album, No Burden is a record that seems to lift experiences from throughout Lucy’s life; there’s tracks about changing to fit in and learning to accept who you are, recollections of young love, and the first steps away from the safety of home, and how eye opening the world can be. No Burden is in many ways the audio equivalent of a coming of age movie, and as such it’s full of poignant moments that are instantly relatable to all.
There’s plentiful highlights; recent single Strange Torpedo pins driving guitars to a heartbreaking tale of a friends tendency for self-destruction, Direct Address has a smooth, almost lightly jazzy feel, as Lucy spins a charming tale of naive romantic encounters, and shares surely her finest chat up line, “I don’t believe in love at first sight, maybe I would if you looked at me right.” Elsewhere the excellent Trust has hints of early Laura Marling, Lucy alone with a guitar, it truly shows the beautifully poetic quality of her lyricism.
The albums opening track, and lead single, I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore is also the album’s most approachable moment. Driving, lightly distorted guitars pare with a loose drum clatter, as Lucy recalls that most universal of teenage feelings of not really belonging anywhere, and not really knowing who oneself is, she explores whether she can be the cute one, the artist, the best dressed or the smartest, all the while detailing how she’s learnt to repress her true self, it ends with the truly heartbreaking final line, “Pass it on, she’s done with the old times, that funny girl doesn’t wanna smile for a while.” The album’s other highlight is the complete opposite of I Don’t Wanna…, Map On A Wall is the album’s seven and half minute magnum opus. Over a gently unfurling menagerie of musical ideas, it’s almost a self-portrait, full of self-doubts, pleas for an unknown subject to, “please, don’t make fun of me, with my crooked smile and my crowded teeth” and ultimately a stunning ability to accept ones lot, “I got more problems than not, but I feel fine and I made up my mind to live happily.” It’s not just Lucy’s best track, it’s one of the best we’ve heard all year.
A couple of tracks don’t quite carry the emotional hit or melodic wonder on display elsewhere, but we’re really nit-picking to find much wrong with the rather excellent, and very promising debut.
No Burden is out now via Matador Records. Lucy Dacus tours the UK in November, click HERE for details.