Managing a career is hard. Being a parent is hard, too. But trying to juggle both simultaneously is profoundly difficult. It’s tough for me, a normie with a relatively normal day job and life. And finding that balance isn’t any easier when your career is something like, say, a recording and touring musician.
It’s a theme that Nora Jane Struthers underscores on her latest LP, Bright Lights, Long Drives, First Words. Written and recorded while pregnant with the child she thought she’d never be able to have, the material is both a reflection of domestic bliss and ruminating on what it all means for your career as an artist.
Struthers meets both parts of her life, the professional and the personal, in the middle on “I Want it All.” Struthers sings, “I ain’t gonna choose / no one can make me / I want it all / Bright lights, long drives, first words.” It’s a smart, expertly produced and performed ballad, anchored by Struthers’ affirmation that she can and will have both lives.
That message is explored in different variations through a mix of textures and approaches. “Nice to Be Back Home” is a roots-rocker that reflects on the joys of having a place to call home to return to when the tour is over. That approach is comparable to the exuberant ode to finally finding happiness on “Feel Like my Old Self,” while “We Made It” covers similar lyrical ground, but adds a driving electric guitar riff to punch it up a little bit. Struthers, in fine form vocally throughout Bright Lights, Long Drives, First Words, really sings the hell out of the latter. It’s passionate and joyful, a performance that indicates that the lyrics aren’t merely words; they’re her life at this point in time.
The album closes with “Take All Your Time,” a thoughtful reflection that sums up the last couple of years for her and where she’s at now. In addition to serving as an effective end to Bright Lights, Long Drives, First Words, it works as a coda for the last several years of her work.
Struthers’ 2017 LP Champion focused on her marriage and the adversity she and husband/bandmate Joe Overton faced in starting a family. It ends on notes of strength, resiliency, and hope. Bright Lights, Long Drives, First Words is the payoff to the story first told there. “Take All Your Time” is the softly sung statement that the journey, its trials and the ups and downs, all of it was worth it.