Album Review – Alice Wallace’s “Into The Blue”
Out West, and far from the purview of the mother brain of country music in Nashville, there lies some of the genre’s most valuable assets, deepest lineage, and most promising stars, laboring in a land that has nearly as much of a rightful claim to the origins of country music as the deep South, from the singing cowboys that brought the Western influence to country, to the Bakersfield Sound that gave a home to the poets and okies who brought their stories with them from the depression-torn regions back east.
After crossing the border into California, you trek through the desert and Joshua trees that claimed the soul of Gram Parsons, the lush valley land that supported the pickers and growers who became the first fans of Buck Owens, the vestiges of the ramshackle Okie camps that gave birth to Merle Haggard, and the wild mountain canyons that lent to the inspiration of Linda Ronstadt.
Eventually you crest a hill to behold the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, which peering down upon, may seem like the antithesis of all things country music. Yet just like Nashville, among it’s skyscrapers, glitz, and rabid gentrification, there exists lost souls just as much in time as in place, fighting back the march of modernity, and holding tight to the kernel of country music lineage left in the city. Like a dying ember, these Westerners and revivalists nurse the glow and feed it oxygen in hopes that some day it will sprout flames and spread, and the Western influence can reclaim it’s rightful place right beside country.
Alice Wallace is perhaps the greatest yodeler not just in California, but that can be procured in a talent search from sea to shining sea. But she happens to have been born in a time period when such a skill is not especially in demand compared to previous eras. This is the era of the song, and of the voice. But lucky for Alice Wallace, she also boasts these attributes as primary assets, and in large measure, even if her California country style is not as commercially viable as it once was, or is tough to catch the ear of the tastemakers back in Tennessee.
Into The Blue is a worthy and compelling showcase of Alice Wallace’s stellar voice and refined songwriting skills, all steeped deeply and proudly in Southern California textures and lore. Though more classic in style, the work is fiercely relevant in moments, almost eerily so, from the second song on the album called “Santa Ana Winds” that swirl visions of the devastating wildfires that recently ripped through the region, to the timely “Elephants” written by Andrew Delaney about the fear many women face simply walking down the street.
Timelessness is also an attribute that graces certain tracks of Into The Blue, including the opening song “The Lonely Talking” about how affairs of the heart often get the better of us, while the melody and chorus result in one of the album’s most infectious tracks. “Motorcycle Ride” is a well-written, layered, yet fun lesson about being willing to take chances. “The Blue” might make the strongest case for Alice Wallace as the powerhouse vocalist those who’ve seen her live know she is, and “Echo Canyon” is one of those songs perfectly written for a specific artist’s vocal capabilities, giving her the opportunity to employ her landmark yodel. Wallace’s voice is a powerful natural occurrence no different than the rush of the Santa Ana’s, or the rumble of San Andreas, or the break of the Pacific waves—an awe-striking wonder of the West.
It’s hard to find fault with much anything from Into The Blue, aside from concern that without a lot of steel guitar and twang, it may not initially grab the ears of the traditionalists or throwback hipsters as it should, while also not being nearly pop enough to find the ear of the mass consumer. But what the album does accomplish beyond making a strong case for Alice Wallace herself is it sets a good standard for today’s vintage yet contemporary California country sound, and how the gaze of country music is often foolhardy for not turning more towards the West.
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‘Into The Blue’ is the first release from Rebelle Road Records. It was produced by Steve Berns and KP Hawthorn.
Seth of Lampasas
January 26, 2019 @ 9:50 am
It sounds like this album is in the neighborhood of Brother Brothers. Would that be a fair comparisonon regarding a more “classical sound” that the twangy steel guitar loving folk may not be able to connect to?
January 26, 2019 @ 10:21 am
Brother Brothers is folk music. This record is americana; at times California country, blues, singer-songwriter.
January 26, 2019 @ 10:22 am
I really wanted to like this record, but I found it a little too scattershot musically; it seems like she is still searching for a sonic identity (I for one would love more songs like Echo Canyon, and more yodeling!). And there are good songs, but nothing I will be wearing out with repeated listens.
The primary importance of this record is that it tells us Alice Wallace has arrived. I really hope she sticks with it and continues to develop. I’m rooting for her.
January 26, 2019 @ 3:03 pm
That’s what I thought. Well produced, good voice, but kind of all over the place. I’ll probably give it a couple more spins.
January 26, 2019 @ 3:16 pm
Seeing everyone’s comments sort of validates the one concern I had with the record, which was trying to define its home beyond having a strong California theme. Especially these days, listeners tend to gravitate towards signifyers, where this record works more in subtlety. Anyone who has seen Alice Wallace live doesn’t need to be convinced of her talent, and you’re hard pressed to find anything wrong with this record. But you might be left still questioning who she is.
January 29, 2019 @ 6:21 pm
I think the term that applies to Alice is that she’s “eclectic”, which I know is a highfalutin term, and probably an overused one as well. However, if you look at at least one of the women, namely Linda Ronstadt, whom she has taken inspiration from, it does seem to fit Alice to a tee, at least insofar as INTO THE BLUE is concerned (IMHO).
January 26, 2019 @ 1:01 pm
I second a great deal of what Trigger has said in his review. Alice’s approach is much more towards the Americana genre than to what passed for country these days in Nashville. But there’s more than one way to approach this genre, keeping the traditional spirit of it while making it relevant to today. This was what Linda and Emmylou pioneered during the country-rock explosion here in Southern California during the late 1960s and on into the 1970s, and it’s what Alice is doing, following that, I suppose, “old-school” mantra of her prime heroes while integrating that into her own songwriting. Tracks like “Desert Rose”, “Echo Canyon” and “Santa Ana Winds” really depict the hot, dry mountain and desert terrain that lies not to far beyond the concrete and skyscrapers of Los Angeles, and remains what much of the Southwest is still about.
I’m going to go out on a limb and declare INTO THE BLUE a strong candidate for one of 2019’s best albums, much like I felt Lindi Ortega’s album LIBERTY was in 2018.
January 26, 2019 @ 3:17 pm
January 27, 2019 @ 2:50 pm
That’s more like it!!….LOL Great video and song! Thanks for sharing that.
January 26, 2019 @ 5:09 pm
I recall Trigger bringing Alice to our attention some time back . I made note of her name as I always try to do when I come across singers who can SING . REALLY SING .
I listened to many of the tracks from this album and other videos by Alice . Man …this woman can SING . Which makes it that much more disappointing when the material just isn’t there , which I don’t think it is with Alice . There’s a non-descript aspect to pretty-much everything I’ve listened to by her . That wonderful voice is trying to make something greater than the sum of the parts involved and it just can’t seem to do that . Usually that means the writing and the artist ( and or producer ) choosing the material .
I just can’t hear anything going on with the songs , the arrangements or the productions that make me want to listen any more than once and that ‘s disheartening , as familiar a scenario as this is getting to be . Voices like this one DESERVE more to work with , IMO , and I don’t know why that issue has become so commonplace across the musical spectrum . In fact , I think that Alice with just her acoustic guitar , that mesmerizing voice and the RIGHT material should be enough to evoke an entire palette of emotional experiences from a listener . And yet I don’t think its doing that with THIS material . I don’t know who she is .
This was not a fun conclusion for me to come to or comment about .I was so ready to LOVE this album by this unique and gifted vocalist .Reading some of the other comments , however , I take SOME comfort in the numbers of like-minded who posted similarly .
January 27, 2019 @ 12:48 pm
This is a damn fine album. Not sure what other’s are hearing, but I absolutely get it when I listen to this record. This is one of those pieces that make me long for the western desert, I can just picture some of my favorite highways in my head.
My one issue: Elephants. Not for the song’s sake, but right along with that stupid Gillette commercial I don’t understand when the term “boys will be boys” became a euphemism for sexual assault or violence. I’m 47 and that phrase growing up usually applied to boys being rambunctious, loud, and yes physical. Boys wrestle and fight because that is what boys do. I’ve never heard anyone look at something like rape and say “boys will be boys.” This re-writing of the American language is bothersome.
I can, however, ignore that song and still enjoy the heck out of her beautiful voice. I plan on purchasing this one.
January 27, 2019 @ 8:16 pm
I like the old stuff not because it’s old but because it’s good (yes, “good” is subjective). I dislike SOME of the new stuff not because it’s new but because it’s not good. To my non-hipster ears, Alice Wallace is creating something that’s new but that at the same time reflects and respects the tradition of country music. And she’s good.
Fine by me. Thanks for another great discovery.
May 29, 2019 @ 11:50 am
When she references Gentle On My Mind in Motorcycle Ride- that is perfect because man that is one Glenn Campbell inspired song if I’ve ever heard one.