In April 2019, folk singer Kelly Augustine releases her evocatively-titled debut record, Light in the Lowlands, recorded and produced by Grammy-nominated producer Wes Sharon (John Fullbright, the Turnpike Troubadours, The Grahams). True to its title, the album explores stories of darkness and salvation through poetic lyrics and an authentic command of a variety of Americana musical idioms. The album takes its deep grounding in folk themes and updates the songbook with today’s stories. Simply put, Kelly’s songs feel like a reunion with old friends.
Growing up down an unpaved road in a dirt-under-your-fingernails small Oklahoma town, Kelly learned from an early age that life is what you make it. She saw poverty and desperation, but she also saw people rise above it. The Denver-based singer-songwriter grew up with parents who lived the political and social volatility of the 1960s. Her mother and father soundtracked the house with Vietnam War-era folk music. Gripped by its ethos, Kelly was moved by individual and collective narratives of struggle. She loved the idea that one could challenge reality and seek to right personal and societal injustices with storyteller music.
The album’s title Light in the Lowlands metaphorically references hope in low personal times. The album is rich with character sketch stories of drug addiction, alcohol abuse, loneliness, and poverty, but there are also stories of resilience and healing. Light in the Lowlands is also a delight for fans of Americana who long for current, emotionally-resonant songs along the lines of Bob Dylan, John Fullbright, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, Mark Knopfler, and Lucinda Williams. Kelly’s songs brim with warmly intimate instrumentation, and each song is detailed to create distinct Americana soundscapes befitting its impressionistic story.
Today Glide is excited to premiere “Thunder on the Mountain”, one of the standout tracks on Light in the Lowlands. The song is a twangy, Appalachian-tinged jammer that showcases both the musical prowess of the musicians in Augustine’s band, but also her own vocals. Choogling along with plenty of instrumental flourishes, the songs brings together country, folk and bluegrass for an old timey sound that feels simultaneously modern, making for a powerful contrast between different eras of music and cultures.
Listen to the track and read our chat with Kelly Augustine below…
This is a real “story song.” What inspired you to write it?
The first time I drove through West Virginia, I saw some of the poorest towns and people I’d ever seen. I felt a palpable desperation and heaviness, and those images never left my mind. What interests me the most is that despite this, you don’t hear much talk about this part of the country or its people. Just because you’re poor doesn’t make you inconsequential. There’s a cost associated with everything. There are so many layers to life in blasted-out Appalachia, and I can’t pretend to know them all. But the more I looked into it, the more I saw that you, me, everyone is complicit in this outcome.
Given that this song is story-heavy, did the lyrics come first or were you noodling around with the music first?
I was finding the melody and rhythm first. The lyrics for this one took some time.
You are a modern-day version of the storyteller singer-songwriters of the ’60s. Were you heavily influenced by them or are your influences more recent?
I was definitely heavily influenced by the storyteller songwriters of the ’60s. The very first records I really listened to were my parent’s Dylan and Joni Mitchell records, and I never stopped listening. There were more recent influences, too. I distinctly remember when I first heard Tracy Chapman’s self-titled debut album in my mom’s car. The honesty of those songs drew me in and went straight to my heart. I listened to that album many, many times and still do. My songwriting is probably most heavily influenced by Lyle Lovett. The first time I heard Lyle was in my parent’s living room. My dad was playing the song “Church” and I thought it was the best thing I’d ever heard. Since then, I’ve bought every Lyle record and spent hours upon hours listening to him.
You left a career in medicine to make music. We all know music can heal too. Do you ever miss the medical field, or do you feel you’ve found “your place” with the music?
I miss the patients. Talking with people from all over the world and all walks of life was by far my favorite part of the job. The resilience and strength I saw in my patients still inspires me. That said, since I’ve been spending more time writing and making music, I feel more like myself than I have in a very long time. I feel like I’ve come back to myself.
Photo credit: Scott McCormick