If The Hunt — the 2015 debut album by local singer-songwriter Adrienne Ammerman — was a quiet and personal project, Ammerman’s follow-up record comes out of the gate with proverbial guns blazing.
“The Hook,” the title track of the new album, begins with waves of electric guitar and driving percussion before Ammerman’s velvety vocal enters. “From the dry earth tended our fragile seeds / the best we could never enough to reprieve,” she sings. “Extricate the hook and let it bleed / burn the rags stained by what we don’t need.” Ammerman wrote the song while going through a divorce and finding her footing as a single mother of two small children. But, despite its dark moods and wrenching genesis, The Hook also offers plenty of hope. Ammerman will launch the album at The Mothlight on Thursday, Nov. 29.
“For this [record] I gave myself permission to speed things up, and bringing other people on changed the sound a lot,” says Ammerman. The crunchy guitar on The Hook is played by her brother, Nick Ammerman, the person who introduced Adrienne to music when she was young. Nick and his wife, Sarah Ammerman (bass), who live in Chicago, recorded their parts last year at Thanksgiving while they were in Asheville. Other contributors include Michael Libramento (bass), Charles Howes (drums), Wes Tirey (guitar), Kim Roney (keyboard), Ronika McClain (vocals) and Meg Mulhearn (violin). Mulhearn also served as production consultant (“We called her album midwife,” Adrienne notes) and will open the album release show as Divine Circles. The project was engineered by Patrick Kukucka.
Aside from her brother’s guitar work, “I feel the women in my family so much,” on this album, Adrienne says. One grandmother was a writer, another was a painter. Adrienne’s mother created the album art for The Hook. “I’m lucky to have that legacy of the women in my family demonstrating to me that creative expression is something to take pride in and make time for and to be brave with.”
A longtime writer and poet, Adrienne didn’t fully venture into music until 2014. She had volunteered at the inaugural Girls Rock Asheville camp as a band coach teaching guitar, and through that organization met other local women musicians. Those relationships still bolster her creative process. Speaking to the even balance of men and women artists on her new album, Adrienne points out, “I collaborate a lot with women, so it’s not like I had to try” to include them in the recording process.
Still, it’s noteworthy because it’s not yet the norm. But Adrienne seems determined to make her art on her terms. She created her own imprint, Patience Peacock, for the release of The Hook because, she says, “I don’t have a lot of patience for gatekeepers.”
Because making the album meant working around Adrienne’s full-time job and parenting responsibilities, plus the schedules of the other musicians involved, songs for The Hook were tracked in batches of three. “What I like about recording an album is it’s an encapsulation of time,” she explains. “It tells a story of a period in my life.” Though it took about a year to complete The Hook, most of its songs were written recently. A couple had been penned for The Hunt but didn’t fit in that collection.
“Songs are a meditation on what I’m going through,” Adrienne says. “It’s helped me heal through a difficult time — helped me get to the heart of what I’m feeling.”
The title track “helped me tell myself I was going to be able to get at a point of healing and forgiveness even though I wasn’t there yet,” she says. “Some people pray, or they have an outlet like that. For me … the music process helps guide me.”
“The Ones We Love,” which appears second on the album, pairs Tirey’s strident, droning guitar part with Adrienne’s clear and insistent vocal. But the most aching part of the song is the near-spoken delivery of the line, “You won’t know my children, you lost that right / wish I could guard all the girls in the night.” The lyrics were written about Donald Trump right before the 2016 presidential election and is informed in part by a conversation with someone who endured sexual abuse.
The breezy, dreamy “Orlando” was written about the time that recording began. It felt “important to me to include it on the album and have it as the last song on the album because, in terms of my story of the album, it’s a shift into a more positive, hopeful stance,” Adrienne says.
The idea of playing this vulnerable material doesn’t faze the musician. She’s added newer material to her live-show repertoire, including “a song about falling in love that’s kind of sexy and fun.”
Because, as Adrienne adds, “For me, I know it’s not a static story. It’s continuing to evolve.”
WHO: Adrienne Ammerman with Divine Circles
WHERE: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road, themothlight.com
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 29, 8 p.m. $5