Adia Victoria dedicates the album to the land and people of the SouthTWITTER/ ADIAVICTORIA

The magnolia is the official state flower of Louisiana and Mississippi, and it has widely come to symbolise the entirety of the Southern US: the Dolly Parton-starring 1989 comedy Steel Magnolias was so named because the main female characters are both as delicate as the noble magnolia and as tough as steel. But to those whose history has been buried behind the whitewashing and Southern myth-making, the symbol is rather less romantic.

Adia Victoria explores the symbol of the Magnolia in this "song of personal victory"YOUTUBE/ ADIAVICTORIA

On “Magnolia Blues”, the opening track of her latest album A Southern Gothic, blues artist Adia Victoria tackles this division head on. Taking the emblem of the magnolia and masterfully subverting it, she acknowledges past racial conflict with the telling of a more intimate story. “You led me off my land, you led me far from home”, she addresses an unnamed figure whom she says she followed north. But this is not a song of defeat, it’s a song of personal victory - by Adia Victoria’s window in real life there stands a magnolia, and though it has previously been a symbol exclusive to those who have rejected both her and her ancestors, it’s now hers and free from these burdens, “I’m gonna plant myself/Under a magnolia”. The metaphor expands: by declaring the south her “home”, she writes her own name in the soil which has for so long tried to erase it.

“The steamy humidity is tangible in every swampy, fuzz-drenched instrumental”

Elsewhere, Adia Victoria reckons with the Southern US in a similar fashion, placing small, individual stories in the broader context of the past and present in a masterpiece of reflection and subversion. She sings of race, religion, oppression, and darkness, and the music itself speaks volumes. The heat of the South drips from her moody voice and from the guitar lines lurking behind every turn. The steamy humidity is tangible in every swampy, fuzz-drenched instrumental, making for a compelling, relentless backdrop to her tales of the American South. Oppression is in the air on this record, and its thrumming, mosquito-bitten heartbeat won’t let you forget it.

A Southern Gothic, then, is an ugly picture of the south, for all that Adia Victoria defiantly claims it as her own. Where “home” ought to be a symbol of safety and comfort, this is an album doused in tension, as she too struggles with the push-and-pull relationship that so many hold with this place. Not sticking to autobiography, the tales she spins combine to form a critical and challenging tapestry, as stories of abuse, loneliness, and addiction pile up without ceasing. Yet even when she leaves, she always returns. Tellingly, her childhood home of South Carolina is name-dropped multiple times, and she even closes the album with a paean to heading back south, “South For The Winter”. Over a gently strummed acoustic guitar, she softly sings that last night a train came for her in her dreams, “To take me back south/Where I belong”.


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Mountain View

Transgression through a tune

Indeed, many conflicts underpin the record, the one between love and hate, the north and the south, and feeling the need to leave but desperately wanting to stay. But beyond the conflict, this is an unmasking, a reckoning for a society which so often presents itself on the basis of vague myths and outright lies. It’s music which speaks for those who weren’t able to speak before, whose words were stolen from their mouths by their oppressors. “I’m not interested in history from the conqueror’s standpoint”, she highlighted in advance of the release.

A Southern Gothic is a statement album underpinned by a clear musical ear and effortless wordsmithery, unsurprising as Adia once cut her teeth as a poet during her time at school. Both widely travelled (she began writing the album in France) and widely read (she references Faulkner), her inspirations align beautifully here on A Southern Gothic – it’s a must listen for fans of any genre.