Finding Courage in Dark Spaces
Seattle singer-songwriter, Lana McMullen, is a little Americana, a little classical, and a lot talented. Debuting with her 6-track EP, Traveling Light, produced with Kevin Veatch, McMullen has hit all the right notes right out of the gate. With a gorgeous voice, lyrics written like fully-formed stories and intimate acoustic instrumentation, McMullen’s Traveling Light embodies the power of music and as she says, “finding courage in dark spaces.”
There is something very intimate about McMullen’s presentation. At times the larger strings of the upright bass can be unmistakably heard vibrating against the fingerboard as they’re played, as if the listener is in the same room as opposed to hearing a recording. The instruments are mainly acoustic, with plenty of strings — violin, viola, cello, bass, mandolin and guitar, and lots of variety.
“Madeline” features a classically-inspired string quartet section to underscore the progression of the song. Meanwhile, “Making Plans” opens with a wash of string sounds and a lilting guitar line buried underneath with accompanying piano chords and light hand percussion, creating a small experience that fits McMullen’s intimate song settings. The pervasive use of the string quartet, including pizzicato techniques, in combination with other instruments, creates cohesive diversity across the album.
Traveling Light is maybe more aptly described as a series of stories, both in words and music. For example, “Elizabeth,” backed by acoustic guitar, string quartet and hand drums, opens with a woman described as: “Working nights and sleeping days and praying that the bills get paid,” with this additional context: “Change your mind to match his voice, believing you don’t have a choice.” This woman, presumably Elizabeth, progresses to “You left home and took your daughter. Caught the train and called the shelter,” and finally, “You’re back on your feet.” This construction balances empathy for the reality of Elizabeth’s difficult situation while realistically infusing hope through the song’s conclusion.
Across the album, McMullen’s lyrics display depth and a masterful use of language. McMullen sings phrases such as, “You have been so fast to leave your dreams, and leave them so far behind.” During “Madeline,” at its core a love-related song, lines like “You brought me out and spun me back,” or “I tend to get caught up acting my age, but you have a way of making me feel young,” don’t even touch cliche because McMullen is better than that. And the result is music with the combined emotional reach of music AND story all in one glorious package.
By the time the track, “The Reckoning” comes around, with McMullen’s biggest voice on the whole album pushing back against those who keep the narrator down, it becomes clear that Traveling Light, although only 6 tracks long, is a musical and lyrical masterpiece. For those who find music to be the ultimate escape, the place to find synergy or healing for life’s myriad situations, Lana McMullen’s Traveling Light belongs on the list of go-to albums. And hopefully this is just the first of many albums from McMullen.