A look at some stories told by women through song
By CJ Sommerfeld, Staff Writer
Art has many mediums to showcase power. Song writing can function as storytelling and exploration of different ideas, and singing can transmit these ideas. Below are five recent music works conscious of women’s issues.
Sharon Van Etten, “Beaten Down”
There is no voice that is more powerful or commands more presence in contemporary music than Van Etten’s—hands down. Regardless of what side of the “all-good-art-comes-from-pain-and-struggle” debate you stand on, one thing is for sure: much creative inspiration was taken from Van Etten’s deeply-damaging and abusive ex-partner who she has endlessly talked about.
Her 2019 single “Beaten Down” explores resilience and remaining strong and the song’s title prefaces it accordingly. The track is a fresh take to the themes covered in her previous works and encompasses just as much power. The song’s sounds are dark, but spacious and airy, emulating the refreshing nature of bouncing back.
Dolores Diaz and the Standby Club, Live at O’Leavers album
Alright so this band only includes one female, and her stage name is Dolores Diaz. I have included this band and album on the list for good reason, however. Dolores Diaz and the Standby Club are an American country-hits cover-band created by Conor Oberst, his now ex-wife Corina Figueroa Escamilla, and eight others. Despite Conor Oberst being a successful singer-songwriter, the troupe was created simply to play small gigs at local bars in Omaha, Nebraska. Recordings of two of the live shows were compiled for the record which was released in late December 2020.
Figueroa Escamilla—who goes by Dolores Diaz onstage—is not a trained musician. Anyone who listens to the album will notice that she does not make many of her notes; regardless, she belts out the lyrics unapologetically—and it works. She covers Loretta Lynn’s “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind),” a second-wave feminism anthem of sorts. Other songs on the album include covers of Tammy Wynette’s “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” Connie Smith’s “Once a Day,” and Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” among others.
Sharon Van Etten, “Let Go”
Polar to the sound of “Beaten Down,” “Let Go” has a dream-pop feel. This tune was created for the 2019 documentary Feels Good Man, perhaps explaining its light timbre, which is atypical of Van Etten. The song presumably narrates the process of release, which cartoonist Matt Furie experienced with his Pepe the Frog character after it was transformed into a meme and adopted by the alt-righters as a face of their movement. This narrative is outlined in the documentary; the theme of letting go, however, is a relatable and empowering one for everyone.
Julien Baker, Little Oblivions album
Above I had said that there is no voice more powerful than Sharon van Etten’s, which is fair, however Baker’s voice comes super close. On her new album, though, the lyrics surpass her voice. They are intimate and reassuring; they tell stories and subsequently, draw the listener in with how genuine they are. Little Oblivions was released on February 26, coming a couple years after being out of the spotlight to regain sobriety.
What I find beautiful about this album are the raw topics—addiction, religion, and sexuality are blatantly explored. In an interview with NPR, she had said “I left in the very explicit references to drug and alcohol abuse because I felt it would be dishonest not to.” She also writes about the perils of being a queer woman being raised as a Christian. In another interview with The Washington Post, she sarcastically narrates what she was told by her parents after coming out: “God is so loving that he forgives you for being fundamentally flawed in a way you can never fix because you’re a dirty, evil sinner.” The new record’s instrumentals and vocals remain genuine to her previous albums, yet the lyrics are much rawer.
Sharon Van Etten, “Seventeen” ft. Norah Jones (single)
When “Seventeen” was first released in 2019 it felt complete. Its lyrics convey nostalgia of teenage years, its chords are simple, capering between Bb and Gm, and Van Etten’s vocals are showcased with a vast vocal range. I am sure that I am not the only one left emotionally destroyed from listening to it.
Later in 2019, the track was slowed down, its chords brought down an octave, and Norah Jones was added in. Jones is well-known as a great pianist and songstress; how could this duo go wrong? This collaboration harnesses so much intimacy and power, begging the question—when is a full-collab album coming out?