A backwoods shuffle with an immediate if unexpected dash of New Orleans-y instrumentation, “Place in the Ground” is an object lesson in durable songwriting. Inspired by her grandparents, Lawson has written a song both pure and driven; it is a song that is not only about something but is okay letting you in on it. I like elusive lyrics as much as the next guy (well, maybe not quite as much), but there comes a time as a listener when I want clear context and direct meaning. On the other path lies the potential both for great artistry and for great fakery. Sometimes the line is thin indeed. Often over there in Elusiveland it seems to come down to the songwriter simply declaring “This is art,” because otherwise who can tell.
Lawson, on the other hand, doesn’t mess around. At her grandmother’s funeral 13 years ago, she overheard her grandfather, paying his last respects, talk out loud to his departed wife, telling her that she wasn’t supposed to be the one to go first. This song fleshes out that incisive moment. It could easily have gone sappy but Lawson stays disciplined on all counts. Musically, she gives us a minor key, appropriate to lamentation, but pushes it to a swinging beat, with fluid clarinet and trombine and tuba playing that evokes the “second line” style music at a traditional New Orleans funeral. The words grab us so firmly—opening line: “Her clothes still hang in the closet”—that it’s easy to overlook the melodic aptitude on display: the 16-measure melody of the verse, and a chorus so incisive and un-showy you almost don’t notice how it grips the heart. Lyrically, Lawson gives us concrete lyrical details, keep us in a narrative, but surprises us with nuance and emotion. Repeatedly she lets specificities imply both logistical and emotional content—for instance, how “She finally took your hand” tells us a lot more about the relationship then had she simply said that they got married.
Lawson is from Memphis, has spent time in both Nashville and NYC, but returned home to record her debut album. “Place in the Ground” is track number four on that album, which is called Until We Drown, and is slated for release in March on Madjack Records.
photo credit: Lisa Bertagna