Nora Jane Struthers made herself a name in newgrass, more or less. Her previous album, Carnival, was a gorgeously purist blend of original acoustic Americana. But Struthers likes to rock out. Her new album, Wake – streaming at Bandcamp – is a burning Americana rock record, a harder-hitting take on recent Amanda Shires or vintage Lucinda Williams. Struthers and the newly configured version of her band the Party Line – guitarists Josh Vana and Joe Overton, bassist Brian Duncan Miller and drummer Drew Lawhorn – are hitting Joe’s Pub this Saturday night, March 14 at 9:30 PM. General admission is $15.
The new album is a real jolt of adrenaline, fueled by the contrast between Vana’s searing, resonant, rock-flavored leads and fills and Overton’s classic honkytonk and bluegrass lines on an arsenal of instruments including banjo, fiddle and steel guitar. This time out, Struthers’s voice relies more on a potent, unleashed low register that often channels unease and anger, which kicks in immediately on the opening cut, The Same Road, rising to a searing wail on the chorus with Vana’s distorted chords.
“Home’s a place you’re supposed to feel at ease…the Frigidaire is looking like a tomb,” Struthers broods on the oldschool honkytonk shuffle Dreamin’. She revisits that theme later on the album’s most oldtimey track, Other Side, hoping she could someday feel at home in her hometown. By contrast, When I Wake builds out of a hypnotically vamping intro to a gently syncopated, artfully arranged midtempo stroll.
“You don’t miss water if you only drink wine,” Struthers reminds on Mistake, a shuffling, electrified banjo tune. Lovin’ You is pretty straight-up backbeat Americana pop, like something off the second Wallflowers album – you know, the one with the big hits – with blue-flame slide guitar welded on for extra edge. Likewise, I Ain’t Holdin’ Back, with its southern-fried blues drive. And if you switched out Overton’s raw, biting fiddle for another guitar on the rapidfire southern boogie blues shuffle I Don’t Care, you’d have a Molly Hatchet song.
“The truth is I didn’t see the wire til I saw the bird,” Struthers laments on The Wire, a catchy, indignant backbeat anthem, part roaring, Stonesy Steve Earle Americana rock, part Lou Reed, with a characteristically aphoristic lyric. Let Go has the feel of a punchier version of that song, punctuated by Vana’s screaming multitracked leads.
The South is a gently hazy but emphatic tribute to country living – as someone born in Virginia but who grew up in New Jersey, Struthers doesn’t take fresh air and piney woods for granted. The album also includes a bluegrass-infused, mostly-instrumental version of the song along with a “radio edit” of I Don’t Care.