I’ve never met Nashville based singer/songwriter Stephanie Lambing, in fact her name was totally unknown to me until very recently but based on what little I know about her I’m already in awe of her talent and strength of character. Her recently released album, aptly named “Autonomy” (she walked away from her publishing deal a few years ago) is definitely on my shortlist for 2020’s album of the year, the first track I heard from this stunner was one of the singles to be lifted from it, “Pretty”, which took my breath away. It is just one example of how she fearlessly tackles hard-hitting subjects head on in her writing these days, and with body shaming via social media getting a lot of attention lately this song has possibly never been more relevant. And just listen to that vocal delivery, it rips my heart out every time.
I’ve done a lot of digging to find out what I can about Stephanie, and what little I’ve discovered I’ll piece together here! Hailing from the city Seymour, Indiana (population 17,503 at the 2010 census, thank you Wikipedia!) there’s no information about her formative years as far as I can see apart from the fact that she was heavily influenced by the wonderful Patty Griffin. But like so many talented musicians and industry insiders she studied at Nashville’s Belmont University where she won their Best of the Best Performer in 2007 and their Cover Showcase in 2008 as well as the ASCAP Writers’ Series Showcase in the same years. Releasing her first album “Lonely to Alone” during her senior college year she came to the attention of Bob Harris who featured her music on his BBC country radio show here in the UK, the exposure leading her to tour here several times . But at that point in her career she wasn’t ready to go down the “artist” path, and instead served as a staff writer for BMG and Carnival Music, co-writing with some names no doubt very familiar to many of you and getting songs recorded by Terri Clark, Clare Bowen, Andrew Combs, Caroline Spence, Erin Enderlin and Hailey Whitters. She also had several featured on the hit TV show Nashville. However Stephanie became tired of the “machine-like” approach to songwriting and terminated her deal a year early, hoping to write and perform her own music without worrying that her songs were “too jarring or too sad” .
Fast forward a few years, and after stepping back from music for a while (she attended bartending school and waited tables before thankfully being persuaded to return to songwriting by Grammy winning writer Tom Douglas) she has just given us the incredible aforementioned album, which she released independently on October 23rd . Free to write uncensored without industry constraints and expectations, the ten tracks definitely score highly when it comes to jarring and sadness as “Pretty” has already shown, but then the essence of country music for me is its truth telling and relatability, both of which this album has in bucket loads. Whether drawing on personal experiences or those of others, her well observed, poignant lyrics are thought provoking throughout, often providing social commentary without any judgement on issues that are sadly all too familiar. From the opener, “Daddy’s Disappointment” which explores parental expectations and the resulting pressure on children to succeed (“I was eight years old got my first B+, hid it in the cellar with the Christmas stuff” she tells us in first few lines), through to the haunting closer “Birdsong Hollow” in which she tackles the almost taboo subject of suicide (“Hey Dad, is it a sin? Hope God ain’t too religious”) every track packs a punch and is delivered with such heartfelt emotion that I feel drained just listening. The atmospheric, stripped back arrangements are varied and beautiful, providing just enough backing to let the all important lyrics take centre stage as Stephanie sings about finding herself in a controlling relationship with someone who initially masqueraded as “Mr Wonderful”, the double standards of her Christian upbringing and values in “Joy of Jesus” and making wedding vows which were seemingly doomed from the start in “Little White Lie” .
Hopefully you will feel inspired enough by this to check out the entire album, yes it is very intense as you may well have already surmised and if you are like me it will raise multiple questions and maybe even provide a few answers… but it definitely demands and deserves 40 minutes of your full attention.
I’ll leave you with one of my current favourite tracks “Old Folks Home”, its characters really leapt out at me first time I heard it and there’s a new line jumping out on each listen. Let’s hope the album gets enough love here in the UK to entice Stephanie back to these shores soon.