Fetch the Bolt Cutters
(Epic *** 1/2)
The title of Fiona Apple’s fifth album comes from The Fall, the Netflix crime drama starring Gillian Anderson as a police detective. Confronted by a padlocked door to a room where she fears a woman has been tortured, the character commands: “Fetch the bolt cutters.”
Like most of the usually brilliant, never slick, emotionally raw music that Apple has made, the 13 songs here have been a long time coming. It’s her first album since 2012, and she began working intently on it back in 2015, recording at her house in Venice Beach, Calif. Now the artist and her music have been freed from extended toil: “Fetch the bolt cutters,” she sings. “I’ve been in here too long.”
And her cabin fever, of course, relates to ours. The urgent music that Apple makes with piano, drums, and various household objects for percussion — and with her dog, Mercy, pitching in with occasional barking — is almost eerily suitable to our suddenly claustrophobic lives.
The songs, as usual, are extraordinary. Working with a four-piece band that includes drummer Amy Aileen Wood, bassist Sebastian Steinberg, and guitarist David Garza, Apple has a full load of rough-and-tumble compositions that make their own rules as they clatter about and gain power when she digs in.
Apple is tough, playful, vulnerable, and ultimately sure of herself as she interrogates past relationships, as well as her own heart and mind, and asserts her right to be heard.
“Kick me under the table all you want / I won’t shut up,” she sings with simmering rage on “Under The Table.” On “The Drumset Is Gone,” she hits an ex-lover hard with a damning question: “Why did you not want to try?”
On the bluesy love song “Cosmonauts," she warns: “Be good to me, this isn’t a game.” If it were, Fiona Apple would be winning.
— Dan DeLuca
Song for Our Daughter
(Partisan/Chrysalis, *** 1/2)
In a world where it seems everything is delayed or canceled, Laura Marling chose to release her seventh album months early. It’s a gift, full of beautiful and provocative songs.
Unlike her last two releases — the electronic-based collaboration LUMP and the more electric (and Grammy-nominated) Semper Femina — Song for Our Daughter is mostly acoustic and stark, although fleshed out with lovely harmony vocals and artful string arrangements. The lyrics are pared down, and the arrangements are varied and complex.
The album opens with “Alexandra,” a response to Leonard Cohen’s “Alexandra’s Leaving,” and these songs display some of Cohen’s poetic artistry; Joni Mitchell, circa Hejira, is another touchstone, as is the recent work of Bill Callahan.
Marling’s vision, like her voice, is clear and direct: These songs speak directly to the listener.
As she has throughout her career, Marling contemplates women’s conflicts, and she envisions these songs as insights she would impart to a daughter. They reflect on a world of unequal pay and hypocritical expectations, the constraints of gendered narratives, the view that “love is a sickness only cured by time,” the need for independence.
Marling was often called an “old soul” as a teenager when she released her first album. She’s now 30, and these thoughtful songs carry the weight of experience.
— Steve Klinge
(Warner Nashville ***)
The title song of Ashley McBryde’s new album echoes the theme of the title cut from her 2018 breakthrough, Girl Going Nowhere. The singer uses the slights of the doubters and the naysayers to fuel her pursuit of her musical dreams, which she does defiantly and without compromise.
The Arkansas native continues here to cut her own figure within the bounds of commercial country — she cowrote nine of the 11 tracks — despite some gratingly bombastic rock touches.
“One Night Standards” lives up to the classic country wordplay of the title as the singer coolly lays out the terms of engagement to her fleeting paramour. “First Thing I Reach For” ( “… is the last thing I need”) is a terrific honky-tonker, and “Stone” finds McBryde skillfully employing the country trope of using one word in different contexts. At the other end of the emotional spectrum from that tender ballad is “Martha Divine” in which the singer gleefully tears into her father’s mistress.
McBryde leads off with “Hang in There Girl,” which like “Never Will” is a galvanic anthem — they’re the two best rockers on the album. “Hang in There” may be addressed to the girls who are where McBryde used to be — she tells them they don’t have to get “tangled up in the small-town weeds” — but as with “Never Will,” its theme of self-empowerment resonates universally.