Having already earned a Grammy as a member of Our Native Daughters – the women-of-color Folk supergroup that also includes Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell – for her song “Black Myself,” Amythyst Kiah kicks off her Rounder debut with the musically simpatico “Soapbox,” a tune that lashes out at those preaching to others how to live. But Kiah quickly turns the musical tables on anyone expecting Wary + Strange to be a collection of Folk songs by following up with an electric guitar-heavy, almost Alt version of “Black Myself,” as raw as the emotions she so eloquently evokes through the song’s lyrics. Following that with “Wild Turkey,” a track directly references her mother’s suicide when Kiah was 17-years-old, she then continues to take on a musical journey of loss, despair and eventual self-realization that speaks to all of humanity.
“A lot of these songs come from a moment in my 20s when I was grappling with trauma while also trying to navigate the experience of being a Black and LGBT woman in a white, suburban Bible Belt town,” explains Kiah. “It took me a very long time to figure out who I wanted to be and how to move through this world.”
Kiah certainly seems to have figured that out, as throughout Wary + Strange she uses her considerable vocal range to tell stories of life that include love, loss and introspection. Whether she’s singing like a sweet balladeer (“Wild Turkey”), a member of a Gospel church choir (“Tender Organs”) or a rough rocker (“Black Myself”), she delivers each vocal with an undeniable authenticity perfectly suited to the subjects and sonics of each track.
With an appearance on the JBE Virtual SummitFest coming up on April 22, Amythyst Kiah’s Wary + Strange is already making strong headway at radio, with WFUV, KEXP, WXPN, KXT and WNXP only a smattering of the non-comms on the record, while WRLT, KTAO, WDST and KMTN are leading the way on the commercial side.
Photo by Sandlin Gaither