Album Review – Angela Autumn’s “Frontier’s Woman”

photo: Mike Vanata

Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised by the relative popularity of old Western music and primitive folk all of a sudden. Everywhere you turn, the lack of authenticity in just about everything angers the blood, the disillusion of trust in institutions renders so much of what we see as circumspect, and the incursion of 1’s and 0’s infuses everything with a phony feeling. This is especially true when it comes to popular country music. We’re all yearning for something, anything that just feels tangible and uncorrupted.

A discipline of music that was once reserved for a dwindling niche of endangered old cowboy souls and a scant handful of academic curiosity seekers interested in it as an archeological novelty, old-time country and Western has now turned into viable cultural movement from the people seeking something that takes them back to a time when even if life was so much tougher, at least they made some sort of logical sense.

That’s certainly the appeal behind the music of rural western Pennsylvania native Angela Autumn. Similar to piping up the music of Colter Wall, Sierra Ferrell, and so many other rising artists in independent country and roots, her music is like passing through a time portal. It’s like opening up an old attic trunk, or stepping into an abandoned mill or frontier cabin and beholding its wonders from a place and time distinctly foreign from our own.

Autumn self-identifies her music simply as “traditional,” which is as apt of a description as any. Sometimes traditional country, other times more Western-styled, still others more old-time before it completely morphed into bluegrass, it’s all is delightfully archaic, outmoded, and impractical for any modern application. That’s what makes it so appealing.

With a voice that feels fragile, young, and distinctly feminine on the surface—with a subtle rural accent and a simple yodel instilling her tone with endearing little character traits—beneath this veneer is a bubbling ferocity of determinism and a steel chassis of skilled and studied musicianship underpinning her original songs steeped in tradition, yet intimately detailed to her specific narrative, and roiled with emotion.

Be charmed by her natural beauty and swoon over her songbird tone, but its the articulation of Angela Autumn’s confident digits on both ends of a stringed instrument that brings her music alive, and delivers her into an echelon of pickers whose names would include Welch and Krauss. Along with her songs and voice, it’s her playing that brings a uniqueness to the listening experience, while still being intensely steeped in tradition.

Frontier’s Woman was released in the early summer of 2021, and didn’t receive fair consideration here at that time during a busy release cycle. A first pass through may leave one’s conclusion indeterminate, in part because of the primitive nature of the music, and the production that probably could have labored more to make the selections in the short, 7-song track list more distinctive from each other. But we’ve been made fooled before by concluding this older style of music is too dry for today’s ears. In many respects, that’s its underlying appeal.

But most exciting about Frontier’s Woman is what it portends for the future, not just for hopefully an enterprising career for one Angela Autumn, but for traditional country and Western music with such young and determined souls taking up its cause, and arguing its case so convincingly.

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