Adia Victoria says she achieved a sharper, richer understanding of her homeland (she grew up in South Carolina, although she now lives in Nashville, Tennessee) when she started to record her latest album A Southern Gothic in Paris, France. On her song “My Oh My,” she intones in a slightly parched warble, “You were born deep in the holler / Even when you leave, it follows.” After dabbling with electronics on her previous album, she drew upon more limited means while working with producer T-Bone Burnett. She also wrote songs that looked beyond her own biography for the first time, drawing inspiration from literature in vignettes that nonetheless reflect her own experience.
In an interview with the Nashville radio station WNXP she said, “I just wrote the story of this girl [whose] sister was gone. She was removed physically, but her presence remained in the atmosphere of the South; she could see her in the clouds, in the kudzu, in the ground. And I started thinking about what ways we are connected to the landscape in the South. And even in our absence, even in our not belonging, how do we still belong to the South? How do we still belong to each other?” Whether spending time in Paris or Nashville, Victoria has deftly made the blues something that’s all her own, while simultaneously clinging to its universality. She fiercely rejects the cliches that have dragged the tradition down, forging an elegant strain that doesn’t sweat over inconsequential period details or stylistic fidelity.
She has remade American musical traditions to tell her own truths, articulating gorgeous melodic shapes in a voice that’s simultaneously vulnerable and unafraid. As No Depression writes, “With a fiery brilliance, A Southern Gothic subverts the title phrase. Victoria tells about the South from the perspective of Black women in a collection of mesmerizing songs that traverse the rawness of Hill Country blues, the country soul of Memphis, the urban rap of Atlanta, the spiraling layers of folk blues, and the sultry languor of smoky jazz. The songs unfold with a brutal intimacy and a steely energy that tell about Victoria’s own South and the deliberate acts of injustice and unconcealed terrors that characterize the too-often accepted story of the region foisted upon history by white men.”