Exclusive: Roan Yellowthorn Takes Us Track by Track Through Her Debut EP
Upstate New York artist Jackie McClean has the heart of a writer, but thanks to her father, Don McLean, music undoubtedly runs through her veins. Studying at Bard College, her alma mater, she immersed herself in literature, even penning a novel and book of poems of her own. But once she graduated, married and became a mother, she felt the familiar tug of music—a passion of hers throughout childhood. Soon, she was teaching herself to play piano, and feverishly writing music and lyrics, weaving in the influences that had once informed her poetry. Once she brought her husband, Shawn Strack into Nada Recording Studio with her to co-produce the album, all of the pieces came together, and the musical persona of Roan Yellowthorn was born. On April 8th, she released her self-titled debut.
Today, Elmore is premiering a track by track breakdown of the EP, a lush, thoughtful work that calls to mind some of the great songstresses of our time, from Joni Mitchell to Regina Spektor. New Yorkers can catch Yellowthorn on June 22 at PIANOS and on July 15 at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 1.
Check out our track by track breakdown, and listen to Roan Yellowthorn below.
1) “Lie With Me”: This earworm tongue-in-cheek ballad mixes lyrical elements of vintage country with a cinematic pop sound. The song’s central double-entendre is a throwback to Yellowthorn’s Bard College days, where she studied Shakespeare (check out sonnet 138). Part resilient, part mournful, the song is a cleverly worded exhortation to a straying lover, ‘If you wanna lie, lie here with me.’ A galloping momentum brings the song to a powerful high, which is sustained by Yellowthorn’s powerfully clear tone.
2) Another literarily-inspired song, “As Long As Water Runs” is at once a plaintive cry for lost love, and a political commentary on America’s ruthless treatment of Native people in the early 1800s. Inspired by a chapter in Howard Zinn’s opus, A People’s History of the United States, this song weaves passages of actual historical documents into a lyrical exposition of reflective longing and heartache. (‘The lands I offer them… they shall possess as long as grass grows or water runs’- Andrew Jackson)
3) “Drinkin’,” the first song that Roan wrote on the piano, is a woman’s vow to escape the loneliness of a troubled coupling- if not in body than in spirit. Complex, headstrong, and lamenting, the song’s aching lyrics soar, supported by a wistful, wishful melody that’s as strong and pliant as Yellowthorn’s voice.
4) “So Fast,” written after the birth of Roan’s daughter, is a meditation on the passage of time and the fleeting nature of the moments that make up a lifetime. Fresh, current, and luminous, its upbeat ‘four on the floor’ dance rhythm belies a message tinged with nostalgia and melancholy. A new graduation anthem. Move over, Vitamin C and Greenday.
5) “Fragment,” the penultimate track has perhaps the most interesting inception story of the collection. Modeled after the fragmentary poem, Sappho 31, which was written sometime before 570 BCE by the ancient Greek poet Sappho, this song is Roan’s own translation of Catullus’s Latin rendition of the same poem. The intensity of the original poem’s emotions have pulled it from oblivion and secured for it a long-standing place in the literary canon (it is over two thousand years old). Adapted for a song, the resulting “Fragment” is reminiscent, ethereal, and impassioned with a production evocative of starlight.
6) “30 Years” is the last track on the EP and it is bare, stripped down, and lyrical. Sans production, just Yellowthorn’s voice and piano, the powerful lyrics are left to speak for themselves. A masterfully crafted story- song set to a flowing melody that tells the narrative of a marriage that has endured for ‘nearly thirty years,’ this one is a tear-jerker and an obvious cover-choice.