Alice Wallace carries her own sunshine with her. Her radiant smile and cascading sun-gold hair on stage, the luminescence of her voice, both live and recorded – she just fills a room with light and headphones and speakers with joy. Her latest album, Into the Blue, previewed at LA’s NoName club before a packed audience of partying industry insiders, is incandescent with light, with joy, and with emotion. Her performance did the impossible – quieted the room. And her song kept people talking long after the performance
In Into the Blue, Wallace sings about my state, California. Her notes and lyrics evoke everything I and everyone at the No Name love about the state – the beauty, the energy, the optimism, the tragedies. And she does it with a voice that is so beautiful, so authentic and so full of the sunshine brands this state, that it is no wonder the hard partying executives quieted down and listened. And why I come close to tears when I listened to some of the songs. Whether she is singing about the Santa Ana Winds, Echo Canyon, or riding a motorcycle along a Redwood lined mountain road, her unique combination of blues, country, jazz and Americana in this album grabs your gut. It revitalizes country and Americana music, and it sets a new standard
The album has ten songs plus a bonus tune– each carefully crafted. There are no fillers, no oldies from the catalog to pad the album out. “In the last few years when I write songs, I spend a lot of time with them so when we sat down and presented these songs they all felt right, and we didn’t need to dig deeper into my catalog – even though I didn’t write them with a certain theme in mind, they ended up being about California and the Southwest and my experiences out here – it felt very cohesive”, she explains.
That it is, both lyrically and sonically, capturing the spirit, the challenges of this place. Although she grew up in Florida after her parents moved her from her birth state of California, she was raised on the music of California – the beach Boys and Joni Mitchell among others, and that infuses her writing with the combination of optimism and realism that Golden State residents live with daily. The lead song “The Blue”, written on a New Year’s eve as she contemplated diving into music full-time, captures the optimism with lyrical poetry: A blank page waiting for a line/A metronome just marking time/And now you stand right at the edge/Of where you’ll go and where you’ve been.
She turns to the realism of the state in “Santa Ana Winds, which she spins out in deeper, twangier tone, chronicling the fires that sweep through the state in what now seems like an endless parade. Although she has never been through a Santa Ana-driven fire herself, she makes it real in the lines:
The helicopter’s leaving/Turning eddies in the smoke
And it’s hot and dry and black/And it’s hanging in your throat
The flames that lick your neighborhood/Eat you out of house and home
While the Santa Ana winds just blow
I fought fires in Hollywood Hills in high school and I will never forget what it smelled and felt like. If you close your eyes and listen to Wallace sing “Santa Ana Winds” you are there, feeling the smoke in your throat and bits of other people’s memories crunch beneath your feet as you evacuate.
When Wallace performs the two songs on the album that directly address women, their role and predicament in our society, her audience – especially the female audience – listens closely. You’ll never find a love like mine/And you’ll always be safe with me/They found her lying on the floor she sings in the cautionary tale “Desert Rose” about a young Latina abandoned by her lover to give birth on a gas station restroom floor in El Paso. The warning is more explicit when she sings in “Elephants”, Walk with a purpose through the parking lot/Keys ‘tween your knuckles cause you aint got claws/Rememberin’ when your daddy taught you that/Boys will be boys you gotta watch your back.
With the turmoil around the power and sexual dynamics in our society that leave women, sometimes metaphorically and sometimes literally on the bathroom floor, these songs can resonate as her #metoo warning, but “Desert Rose” was actually written by a man. “This is the one song on the album that I actually didn’t write,” she says. “ It was written by Andrew Delaney who I co-wrote “Santa Ana Winds” with. It amazingly personal. The first time I heard him sing this song, I felt like I had written it. He wrote it three years ago before we were talking about the #metoo movement and I am glad we are talking about it now”
“Desert Rose” came from an event she heard about in El Paso during a concert series there. “I heard this story from a firefighter who was called to help a poor woman who had come to El Paseo that night and had her baby on a gas station restroom floor, and to him this was a somewhat normal occurrence. It floored me, but to him it was normal – it just really stuck with me, I had to ask what kind of situation did this woman have to be in that that was a better option than what she had.”
Women’s options are limited, from where they give birth, to their careers. While women in music industry are dealing with R.R Kelly’s alleged abuses and music festivals have to be dragged kicking and screaming into booking women as a measly 20% of their acts, these two songs make us remember that Progressive California, the capital of the nation’s music industry, has far to go. “There is something in the atmosphere in the music industry where women seem to disappear, she says. “ I am so happy we are talking about it because it is something that has been there so long and making people hear that it is not OK to keep excluding women…it is a culture we have to start shifting.”
She is one of the women who is shifting that culture, especially with this album. Into the Blue has had over 2 million streams, the Palomino Club was opened especially for her, and she has released the album on the new Rebelle Road Records, a label founded by three women – promoter and producer Karen Rappaport McHugh, singer and songwriter Kirsten “KP” Hawthorn, and artist/businesswoman Adrienne Isom . Rebelle Road’s mission is to redress the gender imbalance in the music industry while supporting and showcasing California Country music and Americana artists, especially women. Into the Blue is Rebelle Road’s debut album.
Into the Blue was co-produced by Steve Berns and Rebelle Road’s KP Hawthorn. In recording Into the Blue, Wallace was backed by a studio band with violinist and string arranger Kaitlin Wolfberg, drummer Jay Bellerose, multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Long, bassist Jennifer Condos, and guitarist Tom Bremer – all stars in their own right. Each song is a masterpiece; the album is a tour de force of brilliance in songwriting, delivery and production from the rocking Americana song “The Lonely Talking” to the soaring, twangy “Echo Canyon”, to the deep country “Top of the World”. Her live band includes Wolfberg – whose violin comes equipped with a pedal box rivaling many guitarists’ and she knows how to use it – the incandescent Steve Omest on guitar, Austin Callendaer on bass, and drummer Matt Lucich. Alice loves performing and has done as many as 200 dates a year.
With Into the Blue, Wallace has raised the bar for roots, country and Americana and raised her own standing in the industry and with fans. She and Rebelle Road Records may see Into the Blue break some glass ceilings in both radio play and festival bookings. The album is so good is has to take the charts by storm and make her phone ring for performance dates. That is what happens when you bring musical sunshine wherever you go.