Lydia Loveless doesn’t wilt. The past few years have been at least as fun for her as they have been for the rest of us, with a divorce and a move and the joyful political landscape of the US. In the midst of that, she spoke out against the harassment she’d experienced at her previous record label, and she started her own, with new album Daughter marking the first release for Honey, You’re Gonna Be Late Records. Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. You might expect her to bend to a mopey singer-songwriter record. Instead, she made neither, creating a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.
“What is my body worth to you / Without your blood in it?” she sings on the album’s title track, a stunning first couple of lines that immediately brings the visceral to the fore. The song questions why men seem to acknowledge women’s value only because they’re a relative and not because of an individual’s inherent worth. “If I gave you a daughter, would it be enough?” she asks. The track keeps a calm, steady pace, but the confident assertion comes through clearly. Loveless pushes aside the assignations that others give to her to make space for her own identity, and much of the album teases that out.
“Dead Writer” opens the record by providing the context for all this work. Loveless traces the demands of a break-up with a cooled guitar, mixing the hurt with the uncertainty, hinting at the details that might provide the details on the marital cuts. The pop-rock of “Wringer” shows the breakdown increasing, but Loveless brings an epiphanic side to it, doing some essential reclamation work. She notes her partner’s “Childish obsession / With everything you thought I’d be / But could not deliver”, which sustained a troubled relationship even as it tangled with her art. Loveless begins an act of self-definition in recognizing someone else’s failure to see her accurately, even as she maintains humility in the process.
“Say My Name”, while titled like a political statement, brings some personal complication to the album. Loveless asks an unnamed person to support her in case she forgets who she is or gives up. The album, for all its inward focus, begins to invite community. Here she steps the furthest into modern country that she goes on this album, letting her insecurity come out in a slow, vocal-focused number. The song doesn’t provide the striking moments of some of the other cuts on Daughter, but its twist provides a nice balance to the work, but lyrically and musically.
Closing number “Don’t Bother Mountain” builds on its synth tones. If she’s previously shifted away from her more rock ‘n’ roll sound, here Loveless takes a new direction into 1980s textures. After the challenges and discoveries of the preceding album, Loveless doesn’t accept any easy way forward. She realizes that “everything has changed,” and it’s still complicated. Uncertainty abounds. “I’ve been patiently taking my time / Or I’m just lazy,” she sings, just after contemplating the narrow space between brilliance and death. Life could go down any side of this mountain, and Loveless recognizes her precarious precipice position. Loveless the artist, though, sounds like she’s discovered the proper path. She’s never sounded unsure in her music, but she’s a new robust sense of identity to bolster what she does and, wherever she goes from here, that should give her strength on the way.