Nick Bollinger reviews the Southern punk-blues of Adia Victoria.
As the birthplace of the blues, America’s southern states have always had a romantic lure; ask anyone, from the Rolling Stones to Nick Cave. It might seem a whole lot less romantic, though, if it was where you actually came from – particularly if you were black and poor.
Adia Victoria – actually her first and middle names – is the daughter of a Trinidadian father and Philadelphia-born mother, and grew up in South Carolina, in the forbiddingly-named city of Spartanburg. On first listening, her music seems like the same kind of punk-soaked blues we’ve been hearing from southern-infatuated rockers for years. But when she sings about the South – as she does in a number of these songs - it is not some gothic south of the imagination, but an actual place. And, in the words of her song ‘Stuck In The South’, it’s southern hell.
The barely contained rage of ‘Stuck In The South’ would be hard to fabricate, no matter how much southern blues you had soaked up. It’s a rage born of prejudice and poverty. And that rage might be Adia Victoria’s major point of difference – whether the subject is society or sex - in a record that can sometimes rest on some fairly generic rock motifs.
In fact, Adia cites as two of her primary inspirations, Kurt Cobain and Fiona Apple: artists whose music never had anything to say about rock’s southern roots, but who certainly shared some of this record’s claustrophobic and paranoiac atmosphere.
A lot of the songs seem to be about surviving the direst of circumstances, though it can be hard to tell whether she’s singing from the time of slavery or the present day. The album’s title, Beyond The Bloodhounds, comes from a track called ‘And Then You Die’. Again it evokes the South, both past and present, quoting from the old gospel song and civil rights anthem ‘Keep Your Eyes On The Prize’.
The album has more musical variation than is obvious on first hearing, and my favourite comes right at the end. Titled ‘Mexico Blues', it is not strictly a blues, yet it’s certainly blue; a haunted road song with a melody that hovers between the minor and the major in a way that seems to start in Mississippi, heads south of the border yet winds up somewhere almost Oriental.
Songs featured: Dead Eyes, Stuck in the South, Head Rot, Invisible Hands, Mortimer’s Blues, And Then You Die, Mexico Blues.
Beyond The Bloodhounds is available on Atlantic Records.