By Rachel Cholst, Contributing Writer
It’s not unusual for artists to find common ground in punk and bluegrass — especially queer artists. However, McKain Lakey stands out on her debut LP with the sense of polish she brings to the affair.
Somewhere has a fully realized sound, replete with horns, strings, spoken word, and field recordings. Maybe it would be more accurate to describe the album as queer countrypolitan. Lakey brings a strident confidence to her intensely vulnerable songs about anxiety, pain, and triumph that is fitting for Pride.
The album is also a proud documentation of life as a rural queer person. “Cicadas in the Trees” is the track to look to here (though those looking for queer content will likely be drawn to the anxious hope of young love in “Queer AF”) In “Cicadas,” Lakey and her band stretch out into a luxurious meditation on time, nature, and what connects us to humans of the past and future. As Lakey calls upon traditional folk tropes to drive her points home, the trance-like repetition allows us to find peace among the concerns of our day-to-day lives.
Lakey can write a tight 3-chords-and-the-truth gut-punch, though. On “I Don’t Know What to Do With You, Joe”, Lakey relates the ache of unrequited love in a small town. The song’s traditional waltz and weeping pedal steel, might inspire us all to think of that one person we’ve doted on from afar for years even when we know it doesn’t make sense. As Lakey’s Carole King-esque voice rasps at the song’s climax, we know that she’s reached her breaking point.
We also see Lakey pushing the limits of the genre. On “Decibel Jezibel,” Jane Covert-Bowlds’ impertinent tenor sax weaves through Lakey’s defiant stance against sexism — particularly know-nothing sound engineers who doubt her knowledge and vision. By playing with as many crayons as she cans, Lakey dares all comers to second-guess her.