Sylvia Rose Novak Explores Americana and Politics with “Someone Else’s War” (ALBUM REVIEW)

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Americana songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist Sylvia Rose Novak is releasing this self-produced effort, Someone Else’s War, that calls attention to the mostly darker sides of human nature, the duality of the South, and our current political landscape. She begins with a deceptively dark lament in the opening “Wildflowers” while closing with devastating commentary on mass shootings in “Santa Ana’’ Other titles like the title track and “Bombs & Blossoms,” indicate that she has a serious mission here.  She paints dark, brooding, poignant images.

Novak describes the theme of the album as revolving around the first three songs, “Wildfowers,” “The Road” and the title track, which she affectionately nicknames her ‘After the Bombs” trilogy. The rest of the album’s songs revolve around those to create a kind of ‘world on the brink’ concept. Songs are global, local, and personal but all are intended as wake-up calls.  “The Road” takes its name from Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name with lyrics like these – ‘But you can’t blame coal and iron /When a man is at the helm/Turning mountains into oceans/into some ungodly realm.” The title track envisions equally apocalyptic pictures. The essence of “Bombs & Blossoms” is summed up the final verse – “A heart can break and still, we know/Like bombs and blossoms under snow/ Appear to die but somehow/Keep on/Beating.” When Novak plays her fiddle against crunching electric guitars, inevitable comparisons will be made to Amanda Shires. They’re fair – they’re both gifted lyricists and musicians.

The only cover is Warren Zevon’s “I Was In The House When The House Burned Down,” a two-minute tune that lyrically fits into the “world on a brink’ theme and serves as an interlude to Novak’s self-penned tunes. “Number 9” has an infectiously catchy melody, and somehow evokes Iris DeMent with its lyrics that speak to loneliness and desperation. “God, The Devil & Me” is a murder ballad about a moonshiner trying to provide for his wife and staring seven children. “Two-Lane Town” depicts the hardscrabble life of a couple in a small town.  “Devil’s in The Details” is yet another story of a woman with regrets about life’s choices. The stark, hymn-like and memorable “Santa Ana” is a haunting, stunning song about the mass shooting.

She has the natural musician’s gift.  According to her mother, Novak was singing before she could talk and as a small child Novak not only could follow a tune but also could harmonize, hitting pitches perfectly. Growing up, Novak brought a natural affinity to any instrument she was challenged with from piano in her early years, to trombone in middle school and high school bands or the cheap bass that her father bought her at age 12. Since then, Novak has mastered a multitude of instruments including banjo, pedal steel, mandolin, and violin. On this album you’ll hear her acoustic guitar, fiddle, and bass (“Santa Ana”).

Raised in Opelika, Alabama, as a “first-generation” Southerner — her mother being from Massachusetts and her father from South Dakota, Novak had some guiding posts that led her to rebel against many of the conventions and cultural aspects of the South. She took an interest in Southern Gothic literature, while in high school and tried to write but was generally unsuccessful. Somehow, she rather accidentally she wrote her first song in the winter of 2012. From there she performed her first fiddling gig in August 2013 playing with Chris Posey, who encouraged her to release her first album, “Chasing Ghosts,” in 2014 while she was working as a horse trainer and luthier’s apprentice.  During that time, she repaired and setup the antique fiddle she currently plays live. “Chasing Ghosts” earned international critical acclaim.

Novak continued to work with Posey until 2014, before joining the Birmingham band Five Shot Jack as its female vocalist and bassist, as well as its primary songwriter.  In 2017, she married her bandmate Kelen Rylee. Rylee is the guitarist and harmony vocalist on this album joined by the rhythm section of Blake Bolton (drums, bass, banjo, harmonies), and bassist Lest Nuby III who also recorded and engineered the album. Three guests appear on select tracks.

Novak is an emerging talent, delivering honest, emotionally ridden songs that have lasting power.

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