Ada Lea – ‘One Hand on the Steering Wheel, the Other Sewing a Garden’ album review

Ada Lea’s second album – the fantastically titled ‘One Hand on the Steering Wheel, The Other Sewing a Garden’ – finds the Montreal native (real name Alexandra Levy) talking about life in the city and offering a dotted personal history of growing up there. Although, like with all good storytelling, the line between fiction and memoir remains beautifully blurred…

‘Damn’ opens the album with a gorgeous alt-folk feel as Ada’s vocals glide over the subtly distorted sound – all while the subject gets darker: ‘You climbed up the highest of trees and you laughed yourself clean’; ‘Damn the drugs, damn your friends, damn the phone that’s ringing’. ‘Can’t Stop Me From Dying’ follows with a brooding sound that’s equal parts New Order and art rock. Ada discusses the more mundane aspects of modern life and songwriting before dropping in the fact ‘I’m in love with my neighbour’. ‘Oranges’ takes the album back into a more melodic space, but is still full of soul-searching – even after a few opening words of reassurance: ‘I didn’t know much like I know now but I still can’t seem to tell her myself’.

Both ‘Partner’ and ‘Salt Spring’ have a sweeter, more intimate sound, the latter of which reminded us of Adrianne Lenker’s solo material – especially when Ada delivers thesubtly powerful line ‘We’re either growing apart or growing together’, while ‘My Love For You is Real’ is a tale of trying to find the truth while making time for yourself and your friends – despite the inevitable brain fuzz and roadblocks: ‘Come to me as you did then, my innocuous and redeemable friend’. ‘Writer in NY’ is a defiant piece about following your dreams – ‘Nothing’s gonna bring me down, if I never had it anyway, I’ll be a writer in New York’ – while the penultimate ‘Violence’ opens with swaying guitar hooks and advice to a former partner that they can keep their anger and rage, as Ada makes her escape from a toxic situation: ‘I’m flying out of here tonight’.

The closing ‘Hurt’ finds Ada’s voice very much at the forefront as she ponders going back to her hometown and candidly reveals the reasons why: ‘Somebody hurt me badly, now I’m stuck in a rut, now I’m going crazy’. With these heartbreaking moments intertwined with subtle musical movements and moments of inspiration, Ada Lea’s new album is one that drives forward with purpose.

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