Acclaimed songwriter and novelist (Black Bottom Saints, The Wind Done Gone) Alice Randall has written some of country music’s most recognizable songs. One of Nashville’s few Black female songwriters, Randall’s songs have been recorded by artists from Glen Campbell and Radney Foster to Trisha Yearwood, whose version of Randall’s “XXX’s and OOO’s” hit #1.
As Randall writes in her forthcoming book My Black Country (Black Privilege Publishing/Atria), “I had been so whitewashed out of them [my songs], the racial identity of my living-in-song heroes and sheroes so often erased.”
All that changes on April 12 with the release of the album My Black Country: The Songs of Alice Randall, out on Oh Boy Records, a stunning new collection of Randall’s songs reimagined by artists that Randall calls her “posse of Black Country genius”: Rhiannon Giddens, Saaneah Jamison, Valerie June, Miko Marks, Leyla McCalla, Rissi Palmer, Allison Russell, Sistastrings, Adia Victoria, Sunny War, and Alice’s daughter Caroline Randall Williams. The album is produced by Ebonie Smith, whose credits include Hamilton and Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer.
Every song on the album from Leyla McCalla’s sparse take on “Small Towns” and Miko Marks’ soul-searching “I’ll Cry for Yours” to Saaneah Jamison’s vamping, New Orleans blues jazz country version of “Get the Hell Outta Dodge” and Allison Russell’s ethereal, gospel-inflected “Many Mansions” captures the soul of the songs and reveals new facets of them, too. Caroline Randall Williams delivers a take on “XXX’s and OOO’s” that weaves the space jazz rhythms of Cannonball and Nat Adderley’s Soul Zodiac with hip hop and name checks many women songwriters in the lyrics.
The single being released today is Adia Victoria’s cantering reimagining of “Went for a Ride.” As Randall writes in her book of Adia Victoria’s take on the song: “In the twenty-first century, Adia Victoria put all my ideas on front street. She swaggered through the song, found the secret door I hid in the lyrics, and walked through it into my American West—past and present—that she alters by her Black and Country presence. Adia obliterates some stubborn old myths. With every syllable and sound, she raised our new myth.”
Adia Victoria says of her work with this collective and the experience of working on the album: “To join the circle of Black women coming together to re-imagine the songs and stories of Alice Randall was the definition of blues work. This is the work of reclaiming, re-conjuring, re-centering and resurfacing Black, Southern storytelling that has too long been denied its due outside the ‘qualifier’ of Whiteness. The Storybook of Alice Randall allows for a closer listening—a truer listening—to the lives and stories of the Black Southern women I always imagined living the lyrics in Alice’s songs.”
In her book, Randall reflects on the making of the album: “Each performance is fecund, life bringing, life sustaining. The voices are wildly and widely varied, in pitch and tone, as well as in accent and inflection. I know these songs. Each cut carved new layers of meaning into the lyric. Each cut was sung theater, embedded lit-crit and music-crit. Each was a substantial feast of sound, voice, and instruments. Ear candy if your idea of candy is a perfectly roasted to caramelized perfection sweet potato.”
My Black Country: The Songs of Alice Randall comes out on April 12 on Oh Boy Records. Randall’s book My Black Country: A Journey through Country Music’s Black Past, Present, and Future comes on April 9.
Available for pre-order/pre-save HERE
My Black Country Tracklist:
Small Towns – Leyla McCalla
Girls Ride Horses – SistaStrings
Went for a Ride – Adia Victoria
Sally Anne – Rhiannon Giddens
Solitary Hero – Sunny War
I’ll Cry for Yours- Miko Marks
Many Mansions – Allison Russell
Get The Hell Outta Dodge – Saaneah Jamison
Who’s Minding The Garden – Rissi Palmer
Big Dream – Valerie June
XXX’s and OOO’s – Caroline Randall Williams