In the wake of a howling guitar chord & drum roll,& over the top of a jagged & funky guitar riff, Danielia Cotton’s voice roars into the opening of her new album, Gun in Your Hand: “Somebody save me.” This voice come from someone who may be wounded, but is clearly not defeated; it’s s strong voice, a voice that asserts itself even in the face of a world that stops making sense. Danielia Cotton has said that the message of “survival” is what she’d like people to take away from her latest album, & survival is clearly a central theme—but there’s a lot of salvation here too, even if under the surface. A voice that can rise up to sing “Save Me” in the face of tribulation knows: rock & roll can save your soul.
Make no mistake: while The Gun in Your Hand employs a wide sonic palette in painting its music pictures of loss, survival & salvation, it always rocks. Even its quietest songs, like the plaintive & acoustic “Boy Blue,” appear out of the silence with an underlying rhythmic urgency; at the other extreme, there’s the deliciously hardcore “Deep Dark Love,” with its lyric about Jesus & Mary Magdalene broken down by the side of the road, & a nod to Willie Dixon’s great “Spoonful.” One of the great interpreters of “Spoonful” was Howlin’ Wolf, & while Danielia Cotton is not a blues artist in a strict sense of the word, she absolutely can marshal the kind of elemental power that the great Wolf deployed!
But there’s so much here to discover. It’s an album that asks for salvation, for love, for understanding, but that also teaches: in fact, that also seems to be a central concept. & I don’t mean that Gun in Your Hand is didactic or preachy in the least; it rocks far too much for that, & the songwriting is far too good. Seven of the album’s 12 songs were either written or co-written by Danielia Cotton, while producer & musician Kevin Salem wrote or collaborated on six, & both are strong songwriters both in terms of lyrics & music. In addition, Cotton covers two standards: “Purple Rain,” one of the greatest rock songs ever written, & the haunting & disturbing “Strange Fruit,” known from the great versions by Billie Holiday & Nina Simone. The standard versions of these two songs are masterpieces in their genres, unquestionably; but Cotton truly produces exquisite versions that are completely her own & can stand alongside the best.
To return to the teaching theme: in her song “Smile,” Danielia Cotton sings the apparently simple line, “In a good life there’ll be hard times.” This statement seems crucial to the album, which is so much about hard times & navigating them, even when the waters seem overwhelming; for instance, in the beautiful love ballad, “The Only Reason,” the lover may indeed be “the only reason anything good happens at all”—but the crucial point is that there is a reason in the midst of all the chaos & unreason. These thoughts don’t only apply on a personal level either; Cotton asks us to put ourselves in the place of lost souls in “Boy Blue”; she sings about the struggle for social justice in “Long Days”; the whole arc of the album, from the very personal “Save Me” through the historic & cultural touchstone of “Strange Fruit,” not only places suffering in various contexts, but it continues to raise a strong voice as a way of surviving & seeking a real form of salvation.
The Gun in Your Hand was co-produced by Kevin Salem, Cotton, & the band, & the production is simply superb. Salem & the others know when to layer on heavy sound, as in “Deep Dark Love” or “Save Me,” & when to pull back & let Cotton’s truly amazing voice stand out against a spare backdrop. This is done so effectively in the two cover songs, “Purple Rain” & “Strange Fruit.” The playing throughout the album is top-notch; riff-driven, exact, clear gestures, even when the distortion is turned up highest on the guitars.
I highly recommend this album, & I predict it’s one that will stand up as time passes. Indeed, the sound is classic, without ever being dated. The Gun in Your Hand is available at iTunes & is also going into release today, November 1st, so do check out your local music shop—listen, learn, enjoy, be moved.
Images links to their source on Danielia Cotton's website