A debut album that sounds comfortably familiar and signals the start of a successful career.
Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of Sophie Gault, ‘Delusions Of Grandeur’ is her debut album with her band, the Broken Things, following the release of an earlier EP. I don’t know if anyone has any statistics on the number of debut albums released in a year and how many of those artists go on to establish long-term careers, but I suspect it is a minuscule number, with the consequential dashing of hopes and dreams. Sophie Gault has largely operated below the radar since she moved to Nashville in 2014 from the Catskills, honing her writing skills and getting together with the Broken Things, named after the Julie Miller song following a meeting between the pair in Nashville. In interviews, Sophie Gault has cited Lucinda Williams as an influence and said her guitar playing is influenced by her father’s love of Freddie King and Keith Richards, which she heard while she was growing up on a Maryland farm, which gives a flavour of the musical territory she is mapping out. Though she is a Nashville based artist, her record company, Petaluma Records, is based in Los Angeles, and while she co-produced ‘Delusions Of Grandeur’ with Ryon Westover and Twon Haugen, she had advice from Ray Kennedy of Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, and Lucinda Williams fame, during tracking, and he then mixed and mastered the album. ‘Delusions Of Grandeur’ is more assured and has its own fully formed character built around the songs, band performance, and Sophie Gault’s vocals than most debut albums.
The album opens with ‘Golden Rule’ which mixes psychedelic influences and some spacey guitar, and the listener is put on notice that this is not going to be an all twang and country vibrato type of album. When she was living in the Catskills, Sophie Gault was intrigued that the most numerous buildings were churches and bars, and this apparent contradiction inspired ‘Churches and Bars’ with its indictment of hypocrisy. We are in traditional country territory with ‘Trouble’, a duet with Logan Ledger. ‘Dashboard’ remains in country territory but also channels John Prine in the lyrics of this tale of rejection. The next track is ‘Heavy Metal’ and is a country rock celebration of that very genre, reflecting Gault’s wider influences despite her ‘70s sound. ‘Long Walk Home’ is a ballad but the absence of twang means this is more pop than country. We get to hear solo Sophie Gault on ‘Far Away’ which is much more folk than country, and her vocal is a real feature of the track. The closing track, ‘Parting Words’, is another ballad that explains with a lot of words why a woman has nothing left to say.
Sophie & the Broken Things have managed to record a debut album that is both familiar, due to the ‘70s sounds it invokes, while also being completely of today with its lyrics and mix of sounds. The challenge now is to build a post-pandemic momentum to ensure that this is just the start of a successful career. Sophie Gault may be influenced by the past but she brings a modern touch to her songwriting, and sings with a voice that is eminently suited to her mix of influences. This is one debut album that deserves more than the usual fate of debut albums, and should be talked about and listened to for quite some time.