Album Review – Alice Wallace – “Here I Am”

photo: Anna Haas

It’s between the margins and beneath the overbearing shadows of the mainstream that the greatest musical discoveries can be found. Those who’ve been fortunate enough to happen upon Alice Wallace in a small club, or at a house concert, or during a festival showcase somewhere all stumble away from the experience in virtual disbelief, raving about this modern marvel of music nobody seems to have heard of. Among other major assets, Wallace is an ace yodeler who will floor you with her skills.

But like a hot dog eating champion they day after the 4th of July, being a champion yodeler isn’t exactly a practical skill in everyday life. In the more customary application of writing songs and singing them, Alice Wallace still excels though, with Wallace fans willing to run through plate glass for her simply from a strong belief that her gifts should be shared with the rest of the world.

Wallace’s catalog of California-inspired country songs is something worth delving into, as is the stylings of her previous side project with fellow songwriter Caitlin Cannon called Side Pony. But since moving from her home state of California to Nashville four years ago, Alice Wallace has been patiently biding her time, putting the right collection of songs together, and calling assets to her side to showcase what she hopes to become a career effort. As if emerging out of nowhere even though she’s been here the whole time, she’s named the album Here I Am.

Once again showcasing her superior songwriting skills matched with the unparalleled power and control of her voice, Here I Am evokes goosepumps, with the compelling and involved nature of the writing matched in intricate detail and loving execution with Alice’s studio performances and the production brought to bear. The album is a veritable showcase of all the things people love about Wallace, with no budgetary restrictions or arbitrary concerns about genre or approach holding her back.

If we’re being honest though, Here I Am also may venture just outside of the sound usually championed here at Saving Country Music. Though it utilizes top Nashville talent such as drummer Nick Buda and Grammy-winning guitarist Kenny Greenberg, it also results in a modernizing of Alice’s sound. It’s not as much country pop as perhaps adult contemporary, with a sort of ’90s Sarah McLachlan vibe in spots. None of this is a knock. It’s more an observance and warning to those honky tonkers with the Skoal can ring in their pocket to be aware of what you’re getting into.

But shoving all of those concerns aside, Alice Wallace and Here I Am afford so many excellent moments through exquisitely crafted songs irrespective of genre. “Looking” co-written with Eliot Bronson encapsulates how the dimensions of time, attention, and a split second can determine the entrance into a lasting relationship, or the missing of one. “Letting It Go” shows off that soaring, one-in-a-million voice that advocates of Alice warn everyone about, and does so perhaps better than any other song she’s composed previously.

Some of the songs do have a more country or Americana heart to them. The waltz beat and steel guitar flourishes of “I Was Wrong” will appeal to your country sensibilities for sure. So will the steel guitar and two-step story of “When This Song Ends.” But it’s not worrying about adhering to any genre, but adhering to highlighting Alice’s writing and the wingspan of her voice that is the imperative of this album. The title track isn’t as much of an introduction to Alice Wallace as it is a song of existential musings whose writing makes use of advanced poetic authority.

Irrespective of genre, Here I Am does feel like it could have benefited from a little more grit. It is a little too clean and perfect. Rubbing some dirt on it would have made it feel more real and organic. But again, that may have been right for a certain set of ears, but not right for Alice Wallace.

Even if Here I Am doesn’t directly appeal to you, it’s of a quality that makes you take it personally that more people are not listening. Meritocracy is still more a goal than a reality in American music, even if the scales are beginning to tip in a more positive direction thanks to technology and other factors. Perhaps it’s time for the world to wake up to Alice Wallace and realize, “here she is.”


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