Suffocating you beneath moments of uncommon emotional gravity, transporting you to internal places normally avoided from the unbearable pain they supress, breathing life into characters that feel as close as kin, and overall awakening the alchemical sorcery of music to an advanced degree normally reserved for only the most favorably gifted and enlightened of the art form, Juliet McConkey’s debut album Disappearing Girl leaves one touched in a way that is lasting, and reminds you why music holds such a dedicated and reverent place in your life in the first place. You’re left spent, and eternally grateful.
Hurt never sounded so sweet. Raised in rural central Virginia, Juliet McConkey chose a few years ago to pursue music in a serious manner, and made a somewhat curious choice for a proprietor of such serious music. Instead of heading for the east of Nashville or some similar artistic enclave, she turned her sights to central Texas and the Texas music scene, which should feel honored to have her within its midst, and that a songwriter of this caliber would feel migrating to Texas would be a move to be among peers—something others may not assess after witnessing headliners blasting country rock out to beer chuggers. But among the legacy of Jason Eady and Jamie Lin Wilson, or earlier greats like Blaze and Townes is where the songs of McConkey find their place.
Demure and austere in musical approach, yet expansive and expressive in its storytelling in a way that stokes and compels the imagination, Disappearing Girl is cast in an elemental version of roots music; earthen and indicative of the very kernel of classic American songs. Her title track of a murder and a missing body is immediately familiar as a theme, but remains distinctly unique and relevant in the way its told, while Juliet’s natural country warble immediately finds favor with your ear.
These are stories of souls forged in the furnace of life’s tribulations. “Tempered Hands” is about a woman rendered so steely, she asks for burdens instead of fearing them. “Hung The Moon” is a musical masterpiece, rounding out its story like sketching a perfect circle by hand, while the musical movement is soul stirring on the level of “Pachabel’s Canon.” The internal dialogue of “I Got a Dollar” shows an understanding of songwriting on a very advanced level, not rendering judgement on anything, but speaking to the complexities of everything.
Sure, some will wonder what all the hubbub and high praise is for, leaving wise cracks about why anyone would need Ambien when you have a record like this. Disappearing Girl requires an attentive, and distinguishing audience to find its apex of appeal, and it’s a fair concern whether more full and lush arrangements would have resulted in a wider audience for songs that undoubtedly deserve one—more of a “McConkey Tonk” as the young songwriter emblazons on T-Shirts instead of this primitive, more elemental version of Americana. More so than most records, a few trips through Disappearing Girl may be required before you catch onto the nuances of some of the stories, and find the appeal in more subtle melodies.
But when the song and the voice are so paramount to the utmost appeal to the music, better to not allow ancillary elements to get in the way, and impinge on their natural chemistry. After all, this is just a debut record. How Juliet McConkey develops from here is still to be determined, and the promise of more songs like the ones found on Disappearing Girl coming in the future is one of the elements that makes the experience of listening to the album so enthralling.
Giving voice to moments of crippling self-doubt, and resolving them into moments of reassurance and hope are the mechanics that makes Disappearing Girl so therapeutic and moving in a way that feels crucial once you’re initially exposed. In a time period where and the loudest, most terse voices are often the ones where attention centers, Juliet McConkey busts through the noise with eternal truths told eloquently through story. It’s Sunday afternoon in song, and some of the best songcraft offered up so far during an otherwise infernal year.
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