The title alone provides intrigue as Texas singer-songwriter Ali Holder doesn’t just confess but instead urges us to stand tall, defiantly in the face of stereotypes while acknowledging difficult circumstances. Ultimately, rather than dwelling on the negative, she pushes toward the optimistic higher road, chronicling some of the pain on her journey. She has plenty of grit and refuses to apologize, best exemplified in two songs which use La Loba, a Pueblo myth about a desert wolfwoman, to resurrect women who died at the hands of the Mexican cartel. La Loba represents independence, power, and one who rights wrongs.
The first is “Bruja,” where Holder’s power and confidence are on full display. After seeing an art installation memorializing 300 women missing at the hands of cartels, as Holder told Atwood Magazine, she imagined La Loba raising these women as a vengeful army of the dead- “Call out/I call out/to raise the bones from the earth….Call out/I call out/to march on the men who destroyed you,” she sings over at atmospheric bed of folk-rock. She ends the album with “Singing Over Bones,” reprising La Loba again in a dirge-like approach with lyrics such as – “Scavenging for souls/and stories untold/pieces laid bare/for the resurrection…” to the chorus “I will not apologize/for the wild within me.”
Yes, this, like the title suggests is heavy, provocative stuff. Throughout the dozen songs Holder who uses folk, and jazz-folk, oft ethereal backdrops to frame her lyrics and pure, alto voice, sings about things that most folks don’t want to talk about. She discourses on mental illness, chronic pain, healthy boundaries, and relationship challenges. She touches on the drawbacks of privilege, poverty, woman’s rights, and both physical and verbal violence. Her stance is evident from the outset, insisting she doesn’t need a man on “Take Me As I Am,” a song about marital therapy as a tool for accepting someone for who they are. She stays on the relationship theme in “Bad Wife,” addressing frustration. “Nova” also deals with marriage, trying to find ways cut through the dark.
Gleaning the titles, you’ll notice that four of them use “Speak,” all of which address privilege as her means of giving a voice to the voiceless. The first addresses violence, the second economic security and having a safety net, the third mental and physical health effects on relationships, and finally a discussion of self-created boundaries that women often use in a man’s world.
In one of her stronger tracks, “California,” with attendant spacey musical backdrop, she draws parallels between the peaks and valleys of the landscape to the ebb and flow of relationships. “Lightning Rods” purports that creativity is inherent electricity that we all have. “Reborn,” perhaps the most upbeat song, is another clear standout. The swirling B3 organ underscores resilience as she sings, almost as if emerging from a sick bed, “Well I never believed I was good enough/like I deserved every bad thing I got…Yeah living with pain will make you tough/I’m finally open to healing/I’m open to love.”
Holder talks about it this way, “I am making a choice for the positive. All this in hopes that someone else can hear it and feel less alone about their own pain.” No, this is not for the faint of heart, but Holder’s words can be a source of comfort and encouragement to keep fighting the good fight. Don’t cave, don’t apologize, and stand tall.