Rainbows, Tornadoes, and an Angel

Picture a sepia-toned Judy Garland leaning on a tractor, dust blowing, looking dreamily out into out the distance, with her 1930s trill balancing on rainbow. If instead she is wearing a flannel with heavy straight bangs, rather than blue-and-white checkers with braids, you would roughly have the picture evoked by Angel Olsen’s voice in Burn Your Fire for No Witness.

Most prominent in Enemy, her voice floats with a deep lip-trembling warble that makes you think of crackling film and soft-shoe routines. Her lyrics however, aren’t munchkins and rainbows, but more tornadoes and Great Depression, waiting for the clouds to clear.

I want the best for you
So I won’t look your way
Maybe the clouds will clear
And I’ll be seeing you someday


Angel, hailing from the Midwest – my hometown of St. Louis – lends credence to this imagery as the adopted daughter of two much older parents who inspired her with the classics.  A sort-of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry playing Everly Brothers harmonies on the radio with the addition of some urban record store grit. Even the title Burn Your Fire for No Witness sounds like some kind of tent revival meets street art decal. Both black-and-white Kansas and colorful Oz, it is the juxtaposition of tough and vulnerable, vintage and contemporary, that makes Angel Olsen’s album so beautiful.