“Carnival” by Nora Jane Struthers

With a name like hers, Virginia-born singer/songwriter Nora Jane Struthers was destined for a career in bluegrass music. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign and recorded in Nashville, Struthers’ sophomore effort, Carnival is a fun and colorful album that takes you for a ride.

Showing off her southern roots, the album opens up with “The Baker’s Boy”, a fiddle and banjo-heavy tune that tells the story of a mother’s love advice to her daughter. After being told not to marry a “railroad man” or “a preacher’s son,” she says, “if I marry the baker’s boy, I will never go hungry for love or joy.”

The title track is a catchy tune that has Struthers belting sweet-sounding lyrics like, “Take me to the carnival, I want to see the side show, I think they are beautiful,” and singing lovely harmonies with a member of her Party Line in the chorus.

“Jack Of Diamonds”, the record’s most playful song, tells a fictional story based in the past of a little girl. Lyrics like “faces of the royalty brought colorfully to live”, give life to an otherwise ordinary deck of cards as seen through the eyes of a curious and imaginative child. Caught by her religious mother, she is scolded and told, “Though it may seem harmless, a game of cards could lead greed and lust and whiskey even infidelity.” Struthers sings more playful, tongue in cheek lyrics like, “She made me swore to never hold the devil’s deck again, but I still got the jack of diamonds underneath my bed.”

“Bike Ride,” is a fun thoughtful song, with a harmonious chorus of, “Going on a bike ride, nothing but the sunshine, I could go anywhere,” with Struthers’ Party Line echoing her each time. The track gives simple advice we can all use; when things get complicated, go on a bike ride, to appreciate the small things like a beautiful day and it will clear your cluttered mind.

“Mountain Child,” a somber track, tells the tale of a poor Appalachian girl desperately searching for her absent father. Lyrics like “a mountain child born to lose, down in that holler,” imply the young girl who is born into a rough, unlucky life will life out her days like this.

An upbeat track, with a sound similar to The Band Perry, “Let Me Fall” is a song of falling in love with clever lyrics “stay up all night and wait for the sun to peek its head” throughout the song.

“Party Line,” is a musical commentary on modern society. “now I can’t see your smile through that electric wire” longing for a simpler time where things moved slower and communication was more personal before it became just a telephone call. Talks how that “party line” or technology has really disconnected us from one another.

“Beyond The Farm,” is song of parental advice, worried parents tell their daughter who leaves the farm to be careful with words warning, “You’re just a girl, so you can’t see the way the world turns out to be, a place where you can love but you can’t trust.”

The album closes with “Travelin’ On,” a track that opens with Struthers singing without backing instrumentals, just some rhythmic handclapping. “I’m not afraid of travelin’ on,” “it’s part of life, we have to choose, which path to walk, which pair of shoes.” The character in this song is not afraid of the unavoidable changes that are a part of life, like getting older and ultimately leaving this earth.

A musical slice of Americana, Carnival is a sweet treat that gives listeners a taste of bluegrass they will undoubtedly want seconds of. Hot off two recent SXSW performances, Nora Jane Struthers and The Party Line are showing no signs of slowing down currently embarking on a jam-packed cross-country tour now through November.

By Lesley Rozycki

If you liked this, check out:
“The Invisible Way” by Low
“Nanobots” by They Might Be Giants

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