When you think about it, who better to expand the great Americana tradition of storytelling than a graduate student studying mythology in London?
At face value, that’s what you’re getting with Violet Delancey — a Southern California native who made her way to Nashville in 2013, though not before a serious academic detour across the pond and into the world of mythic storytelling.
But Delancey, whose debut album When The Clock Strikes Midnight comes out Feb. 19, is quite a bit more than an ex-academic applying her knowledge of mythology to crafting songs. She’s a true storyteller in the vein of Emmylou Harris or Bob Dylan — not as captivating as either of them just yet, of course, but well on her way.
It’s hard not to compare Delancey with Harris, both for her simple, smooth-as-honey vocals and her sincere depiction of the human experience. Take, for instance, these lines from her song “Back To The Sea”: Somehow I forgot to weep/The night you finally slipped away/Now when I fall asleep/I wish I could wake up yesterday.
The song is a tribute to her grandma, who passed while Delancey was away. But the lines could just as easily apply to any loss by avoiding heavy-handed tropes that too quickly give away a context that is secondary to the listener’s own experience. And while it’s not too academic in approach, it is a lesson Delancey learned from academia. She told The Rowdy:
“As a student of mythology, I examined how ideas and symbols appeared repeatedly through time in different cultures, searching for themes that were universal to the human experience.
These things can’t help but turn up in music, especially Americana music, which is so deeply rooted in storytelling. I understood the value of the song as a way to keep myth alive, which is ultimately what inspired me to sit down and write. I’m always exploring the nature of time as it passes: what changes, what is lost, and what lasts forever.
The songs that comprise my record are for the most part related to my own personal coming of age experiences – a process which is deeply mythic. I think that all great songs relate back to something universal, which is why so many people recognize truth in them.”
It’s refreshing to hear an artist speak of songwriting in a way that suggests they care about the universality of the craft.
A lot of songwriters, particularly some of the biggest names in country, such as Dallas Davidson, retreat to a refrain of, “We’re just writing what we know” when people lambast them for churning out songs like Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind Of Night.”
What those arguments fail to recognize is that, even when writing about something deeply personal, like the loss of a relative, “writing what you know” should be an ace up your sleeve, not an excuse. Because the nature of humanity posits that deep down, somewhere, what you know is what we all know, even if the emotion has nothing to do with the face value meaning of the song. At her best, Delancey exemplifies that universality quite well.
She also enlisted some killer musicians to help her songs translate from paper to wax (ok, more likely plastic, and most likely digital bits). Nashville producer Brent Truitt brought a sound that is both retro in feel and modern to the ear to the record, a feat accomplished thanks in no small part to Grammy award winning musicians like Bryan Sutton, Paul Franklin and Stuart Duncan.
Truitt also shared some songwriting duties with Delancey, ensuring the two were on the same page from the onset. All in all, When The Clock Strikes Midnight features 9 originals and 2 covers — Gram Parson’s “Luxury Liner” and Guy Clark’s “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”
They round out a very solid debut effort in the vein of what used to be popular in 1970s country and what is still very popular in today’s Americana. You’ve very likely never heard of Violet Delancey, but come Feb. 19, you certainly shouldn’t ignore her.
Check out her live performance cover of Guy Clark’s “She Ain’t Going Nowhere” below: