Like if Jewel met Juliana Hatfield, who just put out a new song where she sings, “I bite my tongue, my mouth’s full of blood,” Annie Stokes rides the line between pop country and alternative, often gothic sensibilities on her new album, The One That Gets Away. She has a bold (and beautiful) voice, that is at once relatable and edgy, and she’s decided not to hold her tongue and brave the results on her latest venture.
The album opens pretty universal, with the song “Real Good,” where she sings, “I’m gonna stop lying / Gonna look my reflection head-on / I’ll stop whining and I won’t talk trash / I’m gonna be real good before long.” Like a new year, it’s full of resolutions, a good way to start an album. To her lover, however, she’s already perfect. “You love me just the way I am / Ain’t that a damn shame… / You swear to god you think I’m perfect / I swear I’m gonna change.”
For an album that toes the line between shame and self-acceptance, love and lust, idealism and realism, it’s a perfect way to start the album. After the “wholesome” first number, she dives right into her renegade side. “I’ve learned its best to leave in the dead of the night / By morning there is no wrong and no right.” “I’m the one that gets away, / No I won’t be your getaway.” She’s an independent woman and an independent thinker. And she’s not afraid to call out the powers that be.
In her song, “Salt of the Earth,” for example, she sings, “Honest Abe and apple trees / Bibles and the birds and bees / History books are glossy / But the truth is washed in dirt / And out here, we do the work.” Life for Annie is not a white washed thing. In biblical language that seems to be a dig at those in political power and their proclamations of faith, she sings, “You said I’m the salt of the earth / In all your speeches / on your butter boxes / salt of the earth on television / but not in voting boxes.” It is about two-faced humanity, who speaks about paradise and then paves it for commercial gain (in a nod to Joni Mitchell). “Quarry deep and blackened lung / doomed to death ‘fore we’d begun / Caught inside a spinning wheel / the stakes are high, the pain is real.”
Other songs take on a more narrative, short story feel, like “Claim Your Bones,” which is a revenge song it seems about killing a man who mistreated a younger woman she knew. “You made me do it / it’s not my fault / if you hadn’t ruined her whole life / well maybe you would still / be alive.” The details in the song are evocative (“the sassafras was burning / the candles all blown out”) and the story grips you with a sense of both justice and sadness, that the world holds such horror stories, that there are serious wrongs that must be avenged. Annie decided it was hers to avenge, in song.
Again, later in the album, in another song about sisterhood, Annie returns to the sentiments she started out with in the first song. “Ain’t it heavy dragging round all those mistakes? / Don’t you want another birthday / One more clean slate.” “I wanna know how deep the tree roots / grow downriver / I wanna know what it feels like / to be somebody else / I wanna wake up free of shame / I wanna take a brand new name / I wanna run far from this game.” In the final song, her conclusion is “And my love will stay the same / Guess that’s the way the chains break / guess that’s the way… / guess that’s the only way.”
It is a world of sin and “sineaters,” paradise and profit, innocence and violation. She faces her own shortcomings as well as the shortcomings of others, and in that way it is an empowering album. That the “work” of life is to carry both your own load and the weight of the world at the same time. Through story and song, Annie presents the listener with a world, much like our own, that is rife with complications, but which has the hope for change. “I thought I had heroes / I’m fine having none,” she sings on the last song. She is at once the hero and the anti-hero of her own story. A moving but depressing, beautiful but sad, triumphant but desperate album of songs.