reflections with Adrienne Young
“I’m going to have to put in some beans. We might get a beanstalk and climb up to Nirvana!” Adrienne Young says with laughter. Though it’s not the easiest thing for a touring musician to do, Young, who is committed to sustainable agriculture, keeps a substantial garden at her Nashville home. She also pays close attention to folk history (that beanstalk) and to right livelihood informed by thoughtful philosophical practice (the climb up to Nirvana).
All of that leads to an interesting musical practice, too. The strong lyrical and melodic side of contemporary Americana is where Young’s work fits, that territory often walked by Darrell Scott, Kate Campbell, Dale Ann Bradley, and Jon Vezner. Like each of those very different artists she has her own point of view and well of experience to offer, a range pointed clearly in the first three tracks on her latest album, Room to Grow. All for Good finds the singer looking over a day just past, wondering about the successes and failures, the need to hold and the need to let go, and how to come to terms with that. The second cut is a medley of two traditional tunes, Sgt. Early’s Dream and Maids of Castlebar, a lively conversation between Young’s banjo and Eric Merrill’s fiddle. The third cut, the title track, is maybe a story, maybe an allegory, a tale which sounds as though it could be a story from long ago, looking at the possibilities and the risks of change, framed in one woman’s story and vivid images from nature.
Change, wanted and unwanted, is a theme that runs through the songs on the project. Young wrote most of them on her own or with frequent collaborator Will Kimbrough. In both her vocal style and her writing, she goes deeper and takes more chances than in her two earlier records, which very fairly adventuorus ideas already though with greater historical and less introspective focus than Room to Grow.. “Instead of making something that’s just entertaining, and musical -- though we did that-- I decided the goal was to weave a bit more into it, spiritually,” Young says. As is typical of her music, Young celebrates and investigates rather than preaches, while asking harder questions of life and death than she has before in her work. “There is a season for everything -- I just try to acknowledge what the moment is bringing, and instead of making it into something else, appreciate it for the bounty it holds,” Young reflects, while at the same time acknowledging that it’s a demanding practice.
Growing up in Florida in a family which had farmed for generations but turned to other work by the time Young came along, she felt both connection to the land and distance from it. “I grew up in a house my grandfather built, on land that had been a farm two generations ago but is now a four lane highway,” she says. As her path wound through acting, creating a jazz cabaret show, working in a folk rock group, and studying for a degree in the music business program at Belmont University, Young’s connection to her musical roots and her back to the land agricultural ones became stronger, but for a time she wasn’t able to find the right place for the music that was evolving from that.
“After graduating from Belmont, I worked temp jobs on Music Row for two years, worked for every company, and nobody would give me a break, and I could not save up the money to make a record. I was finally ready to leave Nashville,” she recalls. She e-mailed to a friend telling of this idea. “I was ready to throw in the towel,” Young said, “and he e-mailed back ‘You’ve got to plow to the end of the row, girl.’” That bit of down home advice gave Young a second wind toward her dreams. Though it wasn’t an always an easy path, she soon released her first record, with the title track, called Plow to the End of the Row, a celebration of that encouragement and of that constant renewal of faith needed in music, and in farming.
With that first recording, Young included a packet of seeds, and with her second, The Art Of Virtue, she focused on the theme of evaluation and personal responsibility, paying particular tribute to Revolutionary War era statesman Ben Franklin, and including copy of his rules of guidance for those things. With Room to Grow, she's in the planning stages for group of concerts that will also include an educational component, in co operation with the American Community Gardening Association and Food Routes, a group supporting family farms and the use of locally grown foodstuffs, for which Young is spokesperson. A portion of the proceeds of each CD also goes to the American Community Garden Foundation.
Young is as passionate about personal growth and reflection as she is about the world of farming. Struggles in her own life, and learning to view those and frame them new ways, is part of what shaped the music on Room to Grow. “We really do create our own reality,” she says, “and when we meet challenges head on, and place our full attention on them, we really open the doors for personal growth.”
Musicians from Duke Ellington to Barbra Streisand to the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Willie Nelson, as well as writers from Emerson to Norman Vincent Peale to Wendell Berry have left their mark on the course of her work, she says, but it is Young’s care and courage in evaluating change, and leaving space for her listener to do the same, which mark this project. “I thought, maybe what I am going through is maybe what everybody goes through,” Adrienne Young says. “ With this record I was trying to offer my personal experience as something I hope people could relate to, and find comfort for their struggles in the struggles that I try to articulate.”