Despite contributions from immensely talented black artists (Lead Belly, Odetta, Elizabeth Cotten, Ma Rainey), folk music can often be a genre that enables and celebrates white mediocrity. White folk singers depend on the exhausted formula of southern drawl and a broken heart to fulfil their dreams of releasing a cliché folk track and frankly, they’re flogging a dead horse. Lizzie No, an openly queer New York singer-songwriter, dismantles the traditional foundations of the dying folk genre and administers CPR in the form of their third studio album ‘Halfsies’. The record is aided by a fascinating concept, depicting the emotional and political journey of ‘Miss Freedomland’, a character embodying both No herself and their audience.

‘Lagunita’, track three of ‘Halfsies’, is a worthy single choice, purely because it exemplifies a side to No that hasn’t been heard in their previous work. Her melancholy vocals haunt a heavier, rock inspired instrumental that surprisingly works quite well. Whilst “Deadbeat” may not offer anything ground-breaking for the artist sonically, the brutally honest subject matter and captivating lyricism make for one of the best modern folk tracks of the decade thus far. The song tackles a subject that will feel all too familiar to those with dysfunctional habits pre-written into their DNA. The gutsy ballad has the ability to wrap your heartstrings around its bruised fists and pull for almost four minutes, exhibiting feelings of accountability while making a plea for compassion. ‘Deadbeat’ beautifully sets out No’s goal of becoming a better person than the one they feel genetically predisposed to be.

It is fitting that ‘Done’ and ‘Mourning Dove Waltz’ are placed after one another in track chronology.  The songs are almost like sisters to one another, both capturing the intense pain of a decaying relationship, with the latter having a genius production that almost sounds as if it’s been purposefully recorded in one take to convey No’s perspective from a brief point in time.

‘Annie Oakley’ is an interesting departure from the prior subject matter, cinematic in production and sound, the tune evokes imagery of America’s lesser travelled country roads and talks the listener through Miss Freedomland’s thought process as she navigates the path she’s embarked on. With powerful lines including “little black girls better move along when the sun goes down in this part of the country”, it’s hard not to be awe stricken by No’s flawless lyricism in this track, which was chosen as the album’s second single. The lyrics not only delve into the artist’s experience but are also words that many black Americans will find themselves identifying with, another example of just how spectacular No is at articulating oppression through Miss Freedomland’s journey in a supposedly modern America.

Whilst ‘Shield and Sword’ isn’t a standout effort, it’s still enjoyable melodically and further narrates Miss Freedomland’s quest for escapism, this time in a potential new love interest. The album closes on tunes that have a more upbeat feel, with ‘Getaway Car’ again leaning slightly more into the indie-rock sphere. No’s attempts to transcend genres are commendable, although at times her angelic vocals are drowned out slightly by the louder production. Nevertheless, the album as a whole perfectly captures just how many subjects the singer is able to touch on in one body of work, evaluating both private and political issues, handling them with grace and maturity.

Lizzie No is without a doubt one of the most exhilarating figures to emerge in the folk music scene in recent memory. The passion and vision No has for her art makes her a real threat in the industry. Sublime lyricism, raw unfiltered emotion and an unrivalled voice for folk blues are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what makes ‘Halfsies’ such a compelling record.

Lizzie No: Halfsies – Out 19th January 2024 (Thirty Tigers)

Oakley (Official Music Video) (