The Paisley Fields' new album Glitter and Sawdust plays in the dirt, makes you laugh, and makes you cry. It's three chords, the truth, and a whole lot of sass. The proudly queer country Brooklyn-based band is lead by Iowan singer-songwriter James Wilson. If you pop into one of the band's concerts, you'll see the puckish band leader declaim his mischievous barnstormers with a merry twinkle and some truly fantastic home-made duds.
Glitter and Sawdust is the band's second full-length outing and showcases Wilson's growth as a lyricist. It's a new direction for the band but is, in many ways, a return to form for Wilson. Where the band ventured into experimental and pop territory in their debut album Oh These Urban Fences, this time around Wilson traded in his piano for a guitar on a couple of tracks. The result is an album that feels timeless and brave. At times silly and at others deadly serious, it's charming through and through.
Listen to Glitter and Sawdust below.
The album's opener, "Keep Swimming," is a G-rated kiss-off song that feels like it could be at home on Hee Haw. Like the best of his country forebears, Wilson delivers a harsh tongue lashing with a twinkle in his eyes and an aw-shucks humility.
However, Glitter and Sawdust is not here to find common ground with straight listeners. While that common ground exists, Wilson zeroes in -- and celebrates -- the things that make us different. Throughout the album, Wilson paints vivid pictures of the lonely separateness of the queer experience. "Except a Heart For Me" is a story that rings true to everyone who's ever had a crush on someone of the same sex. The romantically inclined among us can relate to unrequited love, of course. But when we discover that the object of our affections don't swing our way at all, the chorus has an air of dejected finality to it:
People talk about some sappy happy ending
Like love has some reason or some rhyme
Here I am
A foolish dreamer pretending
Someway somehow he'll change his mind
It's not the rejection that's the most poignant here: it's the fear that maybe there is no heart for Wilson. While this is a fear people have regardless of their sexual orientation, it has added weight for people who were constantly harangued and marginalized because of their self-expression as young people. Wilson addresses this experience to devastating effect in "The Door":
If you woke one day looked in the mirror and saw my reflection
Would you still criticize my inflections
Someone once said I was perfect just the way I am
But you will never understand
So you don't like when I get loud
And you don't like the glitter my hair
You don't think I should be so proud
Well guess what, I don't care
A few of the later songs on the album, "Can't Stop Our Love" and "Periwinkle," deal with these topics more directly. I love them and they give me a thrill -- that kind of heart-to-heart connection that we all search for in our music. However, I feel these two are the most effective at proving Wilson's point: they illustrate the experiences that are straight-adjacent but crushingly lonely. However, the Paisley Fields' unflagging uptempo grit reminds us that these are the experiences that make us more secure in ourselves.
The album closes with a suckerpunch of a song. Wilson recruited Philly legends the Hooters to reprise their hit "Where Do the Children Go?" (you may remember the original featuring Patti Smith.) The song is a sober meditation on teen suicide. Wilson's lead vocals deliver an undercurrent of righteous rage. After ten songs about the freedom of being oneself and the trials it took to get here, the song's subtext stands in stark relief. It's a powerful end to an engaging album. Glitter and Sawdust proves that queer themes can and should belong in classic county canon.
You can purchase Glitter and Sawdust on vinyl or digitally at Bandcamp.