Amythyst Kiah ‘Wary + Strange’ Album Review

Chattanooga native Amythyst Kiah, a singer-songwriter whose music is influenced by alternative rock, roots and folk music, has solidified a distinct sound and let’s her poignant songwriting shine on her latest album Wary + Strange

The 11-track project begins with the short opener “Soapbox,” an evocative song that starts with ominous, stripped down guitar playing. The strings are backed with hollow, blurred vocals that suggest something haunting but in the most beautiful way; the instrumental sounds like it could be used in the ending credits of a horror movie. When Kiah’s main vocals come into play, the focus shifts on the poetic words she sings, “You can keep your sophistry / Save my brain from atrophy / I have my own hand that feeds / So, I don’t need what you think.” Combined with sophisticated lyricism and memorable melodies, “Soapbox” is the perfect opener; it makes you want more.

“Black Myself” follows the opening; it was one of the lead singles for the record and is a reworked version of the track that was done by Our Native Daughters, a music group that features Kiah. The contrast between “Black Myself” and “Soapbox” is great. It’s grittier, electric, and striking. “Black Myself” gets political as she sings about religion, racism, and hypocrisy. It earned Kiah a GRAMMY Award nomination for Best American Roots Song in 2019.

Towards the middle of the album, there are slower and more raw sounding tunes. They are easily a highpoint as they are emotive and contain great penmanship. “Firewater,” is somber and reflective as Kiah asks in the pre-chorus, “How many spirits does it take to lift a spirit? / I don’t know, I don’t know / ‘Cause I got every spirit and I’m still laying here crying on the floor.” It ends with Kiah pleading to be left alone as the singer seems to be swimming in her sadness. This song is relatable and powerful.

Country and Americana singer Amythyst Kiah

Track number nine on the album, “Sleeping Queen,” is another candid ballad that has a cool introduction with ethereal drums and what even sounds like a door creaking open. The song is also filled with twangy guitars and an interesting instrumental that is fun to listen to because it’s filled with numerous different sounds; her layered vocals are pushed to the front throughout giving it a choir-like effect. The first verse is “I see humans as they are / Great beauty and great horror they are made of / Can we share anything when our heads, our hearts, our hands our empty.” The word “empty” is repeated constantly as the track progresses, once again giving it a soul-stirring feeling just like the rest of the album does.

Wary + Strange’s final number is, “Soapbox – Reprise,” a visitation to the opener. Instead of using a guitar, heavy piano chords are used to give a mellow feeling. About halfway through, the song pauses for a brief moment before an orchestra of strings plunges into the scene and ends the mystifying album with an eerie softness.

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