Lera Lynn reaches out and grabs you with the first lines of “Are You Listening?”, the opening track on her newest release, On My Own. From its very first bars, the project is an intimate and direct conversation between artist and listener, a missive aimed straight at its target.
“Are you listening? Are you listening?” she repeats in the chorus. “There’s a song that plays for you, can’t you see? / You wrote the music, you sing the melody … ”
There are a lot of “you”’s throughout this album. The listener is a “you” in the first song; later on, in “So Far,” “you” is a long-gone lover from a relationship that once seemed doomed, but now looks a little more tempting through the hindsight of loneliness. “You” is an intoxicating new presence in the sexy and foreboding “Dark Horse.” The song zeroes in on the tunnel vision of a brand-new relationship, encapsulating how one person can, in a heady moment, expand to eclipse the entire rest of the world.
But as much as Lynn deals with conversations, relationships, and connections, a thread of isolation also runs through On My Own. Songs like “It Doesn’t Matter” float along through a fog of loneliness and separation from the outside world, with a little bit of help from existential lethargy and maybe a few puffs of something recreational.
“I don’t waste my time anymore / Tryin’ to bait the line ’cause what for? / Some days I do nothing at all / Close up the blinds, smoke weed and screen all of my calls,” Lynn sings matter-of-factly.
And other times, when she does reach out for connection, no one picks up on the other end of the line. Lynn’s plaintive vocals reach out, asking for someone — anyone — to respond in “Isolation,” but to no avail: In an era dominated by machines, social media, and, more recently, social distancing, simple human connection can feel quaint at best, and archaic and impossible at worst.
Still, there are advantages to being alone. On My Own is a fitting title for Lynn’s album, which she wrote, sang, recorded, and produced solo. Part of that is circumstantial, as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced artists to pare down their collaborators. But the perks of letting her imagination run unfettered weren’t lost on the Nashville-based singer-songwriter, who says that she went into making On My Own hoping to emerge with a musical vision as un-influenced as possible.
Of course, influences do creep in everywhere, and not just musical ones: “Let Me Tell You Something” remembers a conversation with her dad in which he steered her toward a more practical career and stressed the benefits of a simple, straightforward, financially comfortable life. But the irony is clear: Whenever someone writes and records a song about how somebody else told them not to write and record a song, the choice they’ve made about that piece of advice is self-evident.
Instead of braiding the influence of others into her work, as she did on her last project, 2018’s duets album Plays Well with Others, Lynn builds her memories and formative experiences into a vision that’s very much her own, from start to finish. The album is a meditation on solitude, as well as its opposite: Intense, intimate connection, both with others and with the self.