One of the indelible images from True Detective’s unfairly maligned second season features the Nashville-based singer/songwriter Lera Lynn sitting in the middle of a vacant stage in a bar buried in a dark corner of Vinci, a fictional rendition of Los Angeles. Slightly hunched, with a guitar slung over her shoulder, Lynn’s unnamed singer is the show’s ethos channeled into a single tertiary character. This singer looks perpetually strung out, eyes glazed over and teeth yellowed. The central song to this second season of True Detective’s soundtrack, which Lynn co-wrote with Roseanne Cash, is called “My Least Favorite Life”, and the lyrics match the unrelenting bleakness of the series itself. “A lifetime goes up in smoke,” Lynn sings, the beauty of her voice cutting through the sorrow of her tune. The lead characters played by Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughan turn to the singer, recognizing her lament as theirs, too.
Six years have passed since True Detective’s second season, and in most respects, the absurdity and darkness of its moral universe have become our own. With its morass of police corruption and brutality, government-business collusion, and the ballooning cast of random characters that are nearly impossible to keep track of (“Who’s Stan?!”), the program could reasonably be called a documentary about 2020. What a coincidence, then, that Lynn would be coming out with a new record this year, entitled On My Own.
There’s a great distance between the unnamed singer and the Lynn of this record, her sixth as a solo artist. Where True Detective singer looks existentially drained by the world around her, Lynn looks like a French New Wave movie star on the On My Own sleeve art. Yet on the stage of this album she, like her haggard fictional role, flies solo: Lynn wrote and produced the entire album herself, in addition to playing all of the instruments. This one-woman show approach follows naturally from the circumstances into which COVID has forced musicians. Like many in the world now, Lynn worked from home, fashioning a studio in her Nashville residence. Where the process behind On My Own’s creation proves most interesting, however, is in comparison with the record that preceded it, 2018’s Plays Well With Others. That album, Lynn’s fifth, is a marvelous, LP-length exploration of the duet, with singing partners like John Paul White, Peter Bradley Adams, and Rodney Crowell. While Lynn is in the spotlight on her first four solo efforts, On My Own represents her first time in complete and total control.
The result is a collection of songs that sound incredibly lush to have been made by just one person in a home studio setup. On My Own showcases many of the traits for which Lynn has been admired, including her ability to conjure a uniquely nocturnal sonic ambiance. Following the confident strut of “Are You Listening?” — which gives off Adele “Rolling in the Deep” vibes — and the plaintive “What I’m Looking For”, “So Far” evokes the dimly lit environs of a jazz club late at night. The vocal production, in particular, stands out, with the key refrain of the song (“But I can’t remember why I left you today / Today you’re another life, a happy memory far away”) delivered with a resounding yet intimate echo. Lynn’s voice is her strongest musical asset, and she highlights it throughout On My Own. “Let Me Tell You Something” and “Isolation” begin with her unaccompanied voice, and the vocal reverb of “So Far” employed to a similar effect. As a multi-instrumentalist, Lynn shines, but her vocal performance is the spellbinding element throughout these songs.
Lynn’s singing also proves adaptable to the multi-generic aspirations of On My Own. The record can be filed under the broad “singer/songwriter” umbrella; although Lynn has been roped into the country and Americana scenes in the past, this music shows little investment in sounding like any one particular thing. Lead single “Dark Horse,” with its electronic drum track and simple synth notes, suggests Billie Eilish up until the point the song builds to an outlaw country coda.
The thundering finale “Things Change” is rock ‘n’ roll of the finest kind, with tension-laden verses giving way to a chorus that releases all the building energy with aplomb: “Things change / Hearts change / Nothing stays the same / Nothing stays the same.” It’s the kind of tune one can imagine ballooning to a ten-plus minute jam in a live setting, but Lynn creates propulsive energy wielding all the instruments herself. Some experiments fare less well than others here; the rhythmic claps on “Let Me Tell You Something” introduce an unwelcome, Lumineers-esque studio pop quality to Lynn’s more organic songwriting. But at no point here does Lynn sound like she’s slouching, even on comparatively less memorable moments like the sleepy ballad “It Doesn’t Matter”.
In the timeline of Lynn’s career, On My Own answers Plays Well With Others by demonstrating just how colorful a world she can create by herself. That latter album illustrates how well Lynn operates as a collaborator, but this new LP asserts just how much she brings to the table even when having to record in non-ideal circumstances. It can be lonely being left to one’s own devices, as the singer in True Detective could attest. But with On My Own, Lynn reminds us that “solo” does not have to mean small or quaint. Modern production and recording techniques mean that the “bedroom album” doesn’t actually have to sound like it was recorded in a bedroom. In Lynn’s hands, this music takes on a life as vivacious as if it had been made in a bustling professional studio. During a time when being home-ridden feels like a diagnosis of perpetual boredom, On My Own sets an example of the worlds we can create on our own.