Nora Jane Struthers – Wake

On “Listen With Your Heart,” the centerpiece to her 2013 album Carnival, Nora
Jane Struthers sings about a young woman taking advice from her dying
father: “Darling, it’s time you learned to live,” the man tells the
young female narrator. Struthers takes that character’s advice to heart
on Wake, her latest solo album, and her best to date.
Indeed,
Struthers’ third record is brimming and bursting with life, with
lessons learned and love discovered, from the thirty-year-old singer. Wake
edges further from the bluegrass roots that Struthers has been
cautiously discarding over the first few years of her solo career: With
its immediately comforting blend of ’90s alt country, roadhouse blues,
rootsy power pop, and straightforward honky-tonk, the album sounds, at
various points, like early Neko Case, the Jayhawks, and, most
strikingly, Kathleen Edwards.
The New Jersey-bred singer’s
incisive, precise songwriting is full of lovely surprises and knockout
moments: On “When I Wake,” she repeats the hopelessly romantic
declaration “I am living in a dream when I wake” like a mantra until the
line begins to take on its own dreamlike hypnosis, and, by the end of
the song, the line doesn’t seem so head-over-heels naive anymore. On the
edgy, hard-rocking “Let Go,” she doles out important life lessons:
“It’s a fine line between watered down vodka and vodka in a water
glass.”
Struthers also cares deeply about narrative arch, and
she’s crafted a carefully considered 11-song sequence that presents one
of the most unabashedly celebratory suites of songs about being newly in
love (“When I Wake,” “Mistake,” “Lovin’ You”) in recent memory, only to
spend most of side-two in a state of hungover reckoning (“The Wire,”
“Let Go.”), interrogating the easy, conclusive joy of fresh romance. As
soon as she finishes her manifesto about being deliriously in love, she
begins revealing its cracks and doubts: “Well the truth is I didn’t see
the wire until I saw the bird,” she sings, sounding most alive when
questioning her own revelations.

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