Country Jukebox Jury LP: Amythyst Kiah – Wary + Strange

Amythyst sings on Natural Blues with Gregory Porter in a new version of the Moby song. She is the type of artist country music needs to support or the genre dies a death: gay, black, female but above all musically talented. She plays guitar and banjo and studied folk music for her degree.

There seems to be a Blackamericana genre growing. Wary + Strange, which Amythyst co-produced, is the first solo album from the member of Our Native Daughters, which brought together Allison Russell and Carolina Chocolate Drops. As well as Allison, there’s Valerie June and the great Rhiannon Giddens plus Yola, and even Lianne La Havas could move across from singer/songwriter.

A song like Wild Turkey, with the vocal line dominant and asking ‘Will I ever feel right again?’ (it’s about her mum who killed herself), sits next to the bold Black Myself, which is a statement of intent. Hangover Blues is in the great tradition of Sunday Morning Coming Down, while Firewater is a mellow acoustic number where Amythyst asks her listener to ‘let me be’. Ballad of Lost is a morose waltz that segues into the suitably woozy Sleeping Queen: ‘Please leave me alone!’

There is something elemental (and very Rhiannon Giddens) about the bass-driven blues of Opaque and the album’s centrepiece Tender Organs. On the latter, we hear what sounds like a creek bubbling in the background before a wild guitar part is married to cries of ‘Woe is me! When I wake up, I feel like I’m dying.’ I am sure there is a great deal of subtext behind the song, but even without any racial angle this is a song of pain.

An album which is bookended by the song Soapbox must have something to say. Rounder Records, who put out Wary + Strange, have helped Amythyst say it. We ought to listen.

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