A record that’s testament to going through hell and coming out the other side, and one that confirms its author as one of the foremost singer-songwriters of her generation
Angel Olsen has always been a songwriter who has worn her heart on her sleeve and for her sixth album, Big Time, she’s had more than enough material to draw upon. Olsen has experienced some flux in her personal life of late – breaking up with her partner, then coming out as gay, and then sadly losing both of her parents within weeks of each other.
So, as you might expect, Big Time draws on all those recent experiences to make it an emotional listen. And, after the experimentation of her previous two records, All Mirrors and Whole New Mess, it also marks a return to the more accessible songwriting of 2016’s wonderful My Woman.
With some tracks soaked in pedal guitar, Olsen has gone full-on alt-country on Big Time. Although the general tone is downbeat and mournful, paradoxically there’s also a celebratory air to some tracks. Opening track All The Good Times is a farewell to a former lover, but with gratitude for the experience and memories – “I’ll be long gone, thanks for the songs” as one line puts it.
The title track, which is co-written with her current partner Beau Thibodeaux, employs some honky-tonk piano, and steel guitar while celebrating the first flush of new love – “lay in the tall grass, talking with your eyes….thinking the same things”. It’s also possibly the first song ever to give an unlikely namecheck to the Chris De Burgh song Lady In Red.
Olsen sounds equally at home mining a well of sorrow – Go Home is a stirring, slow-building epic ballad which brings to mind a former collaborator of Olsen, Sharon Van Etten, and This Is How It Works tackles grief and how to deal with it (a line like “I’m so tired of saying I’m tired” perfectly sums up the nature of mourning) with the backing of Spencer Cullum’s pedal steel and Drew Erickson’s harpsichord. The waltz-time melody keeps the song almost floating along beautifully, despite the song’s sad subject matter.
Laurel Canyon music scene veteran Jonathan Wilson, who has worked with Father John Misty and Conor Oberst before, is on production duties, and is the perfect foil for Olsen on Big Time. The evocative string arrangements on Through The Fires, a moving ode to self-acceptance or the hushed piano chords of closing track Chasing The Sun are just two of the little touches that Wilson adds to give a new dimension to Olsen’s sound.
As good as Olsen’s previous two records, Big Time sounds like the true sequel to the likes of My Woman and Burn Your Fire For No Witness. It’s a record that’s testament to going through hell and coming out the other side. It’s also an album that confirms Angel Olsen as one of the foremost singer-songwriters of her generation.