The Nashville-by-way-of-California musician performs Sunday at Rambling House
Into the Blue, the 2019 full-length from Alice Wallace, drops listeners smack dab into the middle of the action.
“What just happened?” the California musician sings in the album’s opening line, surveying the emotional wreckage left in the wake of an unnamed disaster.
Over the course of the record’s 11 songs, Wallace begins to piece things together, navigating bluesy bruisers like the tear-streaked “When She Cries” and feminist ballads like the quietly forceful “Elephants,” which examines the fraught daily experience of being a woman, where even a walk across a darkened parking lot can be a perilous trek. “Keys in your knuckles ’cause you ain’t got claws,” Wallace sings atop a disarmingly gentle acoustic strum.
“It’s such an important sentiment, and we do need to call attention to the fact that there are still lots of issues regarding how women are treated and how women are seen in the world as human beings,” Wallace said by phone while driving through the hills of Eastern Tennessee in mid-February.
This includes within the world of country music, where women still struggle to receive airplay on terrestrial and satellite radio, as well as equal platforming on streaming sites such as Spotify. “Changes are being made slowly,” Wallace said. “But we have to keep at it, and we have to keep people talking. … Everything we can do to keep those conversations going is important.”
As Into the Blue progresses, though, things begin to take a gradual upturn, first with the soaring “Top of the World,” and then continuing into last track “For Califia,” which best summarizes Wallace’s turn-lemons-into-lemonade approach. “Take heed when you bury me,” she sings, “for you should know that I’m a seed. … I’ll only rise again someday.”Andy's current power ranking of things that rise: 1) bread 2) the sun 3) Jesus 4) a phoenix 5) sea levels. Sign up for our daily newsletter
Following Wallace’s decision to relocate from her home in Orange County, California, to the music-centric Nashville, similar career growth could be expected in the coming months. “It’s been just as good as or better than I thought it would be,” Wallace said of the move. “There’s so much going on here, and so much co-writing and collaborating with other songwriters. And it’s still a small enough town that you can see three different shows by three different top-notch songwriters in one night.”
The city has already afforded Wallace experiences she might not have otherwise had, such as the evening when she performed a cover of Linda Ronstadt’s “Long, Long Time” at Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge in nearby Madison, Tennessee, and was later approached by Ronstadt’s cousin, who was in the audience. “She was so sweet, and she said she was going to send the song to Linda,” said Wallace, who recently released her version of the cover on vinyl (you can also listen to the song in the video below). “It was one of those moments where I was like, ‘Only in Nashville could this happen.’”
Growing up in the woods of St. Cloud, a small town near Disney World in Central Florida, Wallace’s current Nashville existence seemed far off. “I had a horse, and I would spend every day after school riding through the dirt roads around our house,” said Wallace, who performs at Rambling House on Sunday, Feb. 23. “We’d be out in the woods building forts with the ticks and the mosquitoes and the bugs.”
Surrounded by ranch land and cattle, country music understandably flourished in the region, working its way into Wallace’s blood from a young age and remaining following a later move to California. The music that Wallace discovered in these early years, beyond forming the framework of her current sound, also serves as a reminder of the more carefree days when picking up a guitar was less a career necessity than an all-consuming passion.
“Sometimes you can get bogged down in touring and all the things that you have to do instead of just singing for the love of it,” said Wallace, noting that covering “Long, Long Time” in concert each night helps her to reconnect with those more innocent times. “The longer you do it, and the different kinds of stages you get to play on, and the different kinds of audiences you get to connect with, that can change your perspective and your motivation. … As a musician, you’re constantly trying to find ways to remember what it felt like when you first picked up a guitar and sang simply because it felt good to you.”