We’ve entered a folk-pop renaissance, and some of today’s biggest stars are leaning into it. Kacey Musgraves’ electronic space-country started to captivate people around 2018. Country music supergroup The Highwomen, which consists of Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires, better captures the height of the media’s current affixation around the style. And, of course, Taylor Swift also has had her mics in the mix, even enlisting the likes of Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon for her latest pop chart achievement, Folklore. Above all, some of today’s artists have embraced a trend that has produced some of the most iconic and rangeful storytellers at times over the past six or so decades
While Columbus singer-songwriter Lydia Brownfield hasn’t opened for any of the aforementioned acts, she has shared the same stage with the likes of the Indigo Girls and Shawn Mullins, the first being an American folk-rock group that helped pave the way in the late ‘80s and ‘90s and inspired so many women musicians. Brownfield — who handles vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, keyboards, strings, and synths on her latest record, Dig — is absolutely one of them, a voice that was first brought to my attention through the Columbus industrial project Wandering Stars, which has brought out the Beth Gibbons (of Portishead) in Brownfield on more than one occasion. On Dig, we get the full range of the Lydia Brownfield experience through anecdotes of lessons learned from past relationships.
From the jump, Brownfield attempts to tear our hearts apart with the looping ballad “We Are Bound.” The follow-up is an indication of how the rest of the record will play out, where the emotional palette is being tossed about from track to track to track. After the tearjerking “We Are Bound,” we’re given no time to wipe the water from our face. We’re thrust into “Death Do Us Part,” maximizing the emotional energy of the moment. We are then brought back down to a more sorrowful mood with the third track “Against The Light,” — which really captures the raw energy and emotion of ‘90s-era singer-songwriters. The tempo then shoots right back up to track two’s pace with “Broken.” It’s a rollercoaster of emotions with more hills than you can count on one hand, that’s for sure.
This tracks with what Brownfield has personally divulged about the album in a daily track-by-track synopsis on her Facebook page. Over the past two weeks, she has left both short and lengthy ruminations on the 13 tracks. For some reason, the track “Everything Out There” missed my first couple passes, so I reached out to Brownfield over direct messages to see what she had to say about this one direct from the source:
“This new album, Dig, is about love. And my search within my own patterns of relationships to better understand some of the mistakes I’ve made regarding love. Falling hard in it. Navigating between what my head wants and what my heart wants. The lightness it brings with it, and the darkness it leaves when it disappears. I know that love is the savior of us all. I know that love is a force that drives us to stay alive, it drives us to be better, and love drives us to create. I know that no matter how horrible a person may be — or how horrible their mistakes may have been — they are capable of love. We all have the power to heal others with love.
“Most of the songs on this album could be shared with all this in mind. (“Everything Out There”) is about hoping the love will never leave, and fearing it could.”
Over the years, folk-pop has umbrellaed some of the most prolific singer-songwriters of our time. Joan Baez. Joni Mitchell. Tracy Chapman. These are just a few of the names that come to mind, but the point is each decade we’re blessed with an increasing number of new artists who have proven to be just as capable of reaching deep down into their emotional baggage and finding strength through it as the ones before. Brownfield has been a part of the crop since the mid-’90s, and with each release, it’s becoming clear how masterful she has become at this. The best example of this on Dig is the swaying, swooning soft uppercut of a middle. It starts with “Love: Forever,” which is also the shortest track on the album. With lines such as, “If there was such a thing as love/I’d ravage it, devour it” and “Finding what love really is/and is not,” the vivid and poetic storytelling is strongest at this point. “The Digger” and “Windsong and Cigarette Smoke” — which also sees Brownfield dropping visual Midwest gems such as “the hill behind the Dairy Queen” and “the drive-in movie theater’s big screen” — are songs that also see Brownfield coming to terms with love’s baggage. So while the sounds and tempos we’re hearing on this album bounce back and forth throughout the 13 tracks, our lesson on love and its pitfalls is consistent throughout.
Whether it be our relationships with others or the one we have with ourselves, our ideas of what they mean have shifted over the past year. With ruminations such as, “And if we’re not down to make it for each other/Then we’re not bound to make it on our own,” it’s starting to become clearer the people who can fulfill such needs for us are thinning out. Which is OK because I think it just means we will be spending our time more meaningfully.
Accompanying Brownfield on this record were Jeff Dalrymple (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals), Andy Harrison (electric guitar, vocals), Philip Maneri (electric bass, double bass), and Jeff Martin (drums, percussion). Dig was produced by Brownfield and Fred Blitzer.
Follow Lydia Brownfield on Instagram.