Lauren Pratt has long been planting the seeds of empathy that have grown into her new album, Young American Sycamore.
The winner of No Depression’s Singer-Songwriter Award at the 2018 FreshGrass Festival, Pratt weaves empathy into various facets of her life, such as working toward a degree in clinical mental health counseling and expressive arts therapy to use the power of music and arts to help others. But empathy is integral to Pratt’s sophomore project, which tells stories that are somber in nature, yet reflective of her personal evolution.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than on “Give and Take,” where Pratt acknowledges the fire that burned down her apartment. Pratt’s delivery is plaintive, but striking, with the gentle plucking of an acoustic guitar and haunting effect of the violin supporting her angelic vocals. The pain in Pratt’s voice is prominent, yet void of any bitterness, as she explores the harrowing night the roof of her Nashville apartment complex, The Sycamores, caught fire. “God bless the roof that caved with hydrant water and flame / In my grieving loss, draw near to me,” she sings, holding every note just right so you feel the effect of her loss. We journey through the grieving process with her, as she transitions from “homeless home sweet home” to accepting the tragedy as she proclaims “I will bless your name, god of give and take,” the final “amen” feeling like a powerful hymnal.
She pairs longing with nostalgia in “Blue Eyes,” which sounds straight out of Patsy Cline’s catalog, with Pratt instantly taking you back to simpler times with a steel guitar and the reminiscence in her voice working together to create a vintage country song. She evokes this same feeling on “Haunting,” a song true to its name. Every aspect of the ballad is enchanting, including Pratt’s aching vocals and the waning steel guitar that paint a picture of loneliness after a lover has moved on. “I need to find out what my spirit is wanting / these echoing rooms are just empty tombs / in a house that I’m haunting.”
She continues to demonstrate her distinct talent for potent imagery in “Twenty-Five,” becoming the intriguing narrator of a dark tale about two brothers in a game of cat and mouse — one who’s a rebel on the run for illegal moonshine while his kin chases him in the name of righteousness. “Twenty-five ain’t nothing like I thought it’d be / a rope and a scaffold and a tall, tall tree / a window into eternity, my brother counting down from three,” Pratt sings, her voice as chilling as the final words prove her mastery as a storyteller.
With Sycamore, Pratt takes listeners into the depth of her songwriting, a style so descriptive that you can’t help but see the deep blue of the Oklahoma sky reflected in someone’s eyes in “Blue Eyes” or feel the fire of the holy ghost burning through your veins on “Cocaine Gospel,” experience the quiet of an echo juxtaposed with the loud silence in “Haunting,” and venture along on her vulnerable search for sanctuary with “The Spirit Moves.” Musically, Pratt maximizes subtle instrumentation, using a crying fiddle, soaring drums, and the twinkle of piano to create melodies that are mystifying in their gentle state, her voice packing a poignant punch like no other.
Prior to the album’s release, Pratt cited the project as a “significant arc in my personal character development,” an element listeners will identify in the way she transforms her journey into moving songs. With Young American Sycamore, Pratt personifies the mighty tree that goes through its growing process out in the open, baring its evolution for the world to see — just as she does so beautifully.