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Beth Bombara Looks Outward With "Criminal Tongue" (premiere + interview)

Photo: Nat Burrell / Hello Wendy

Beth Bombara's new album, Evergreen, is in part about reclaiming personal dignity but, occasionally, the personal and the private intersect. Hear her new single "Criminal Tongue".

Beth Bombara's latest album, Evergreen, arrives 9 August. The collection covers a wide range of topics from the deeply personal ("I Only Cry When I'm Alone") to the decidedly public, including "Criminal Tongue", which examines the current political environment in the United States, specifically the 2016 election of Donald Trump and the outrage over his guileful tendencies.

"It's me looking outward at specific current events," Bombara says, speaking from her home in St. Louis. "I was so shocked. 'How do you even talk about this?' How is this happening? How is this our reality right now? It's me working through shock."

Though Bombara is not primarily known as a topical songwriter, previous tunes, such as "Long Dark Hallelujah", have tackled world events. "With that one, I saw this turmoil within the government," she notes. "Obama was president, and I could see where we are now. The divisiveness was building up."

Informed by classic country music and contemporary Americana sensibilities, Bombara proves herself a major contender both via "Criminal Tongue" and Evergreen. Somewhere in the darkness, the listener can still find rays of light that shine toward a brighter tomorrow.

Bombara recently spoke with PopMatters about Evergreen's origins and her artistic process.

When did the material for this album start coming together?

I'm a pretty sporadic writer, and I wish that I was a more steady writer. I write a bunch of songs in a short period. I can remember stretches where I didn't finish a song for a year. I worked on these songs for about six months. A lot of that was when we were out on the road.

How does that work to write on the road? Because there are a lot of people who simply can't.

I'd have a main musical idea that we'd jam out at soundcheck. If we had a couple of days off, we'd set up wherever we were staying and work on songs then. In the van, we were pretty much chilling and not working on songs. I'd like to get to that point where we could pull out a guitar and work on stuff, but we're not there yet.

Did you have a sense of thematic connections within the material?

By the nature of how I write, I feel that certain songs are related thematically. Not everything. It's never intentional. I notice that after. When we were working things out as a band, it was more about the musical elements. I tend to write the music first and put lyrics to those ideas later. But it's different every time.

When you look back at the record now, what do you see as the connections?

Some of the songs are about rediscovering my self-confidence. A couple of songs speak to that. It might be really subtle, but they're about what I was going through at the time and looking inward.

When you're done with a record do you still have moments where you say, "If I had five years, I'd stay and fiddle with this, this and this?"

I'm of the mind that you have to find the fine line between perfection and when something's done. Creativity is weird in that way. I really like having a defined timeframe on things. It forces you to say that something's done. I like to think that records are about capturing a time and a place and the people I was with.

But songs might evolve into different arrangements. I might record a different version of a song ten years down the road. I'm not attached to it being a perfect thing. I'm not going to put out something I'm not proud of, but I try not to hold too tightly to things.

Do you sometimes sing songs that are five or more years old and think, "Now I know what this is about. I didn't realize that when I wrote it"?

Totally. The meaning can change. Songs are baffling and magical.

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