One of America’s best genre-blenders has returned as singer-songwriter Bartees Strange has released the third preview single of his upcoming album Farm to Table with the emotionally resonant ‘Hold the Line’.
For his most recent track, Strange found inspiration in one of America’s most fraught moments in recent memory: the death of George Floyd. Specifically, Strange keyed into the unimaginable growth that Floyd’s daughter Gianna had to do on a public stage as the world looked to her for answers and insight, the likes of which should never burden a seven-year-old.
“I remember watching George Floyd’s daughter talk about the death of her father and thinking, ‘Wow – what a sad introduction to Black American life for this young person,'” Strange explains in a statement. “It was painful to watch her grow up in that moment like all Black kids eventually do.”
“‘Hold the Line’ was written over the course of three days during that first pandemic summer. Through this song, I was trying to make sense of what was happening in the US, my neighbourhood and my community at that moment. During the marches people were trying to stop the bleeding, locked arm in arm, doing everything they could to hold the line.”
To give the song its proper impact, Strange has elected to dive into yet another genre: alternative country. Let me say this though: calling this song “country” is just as wrong as calling his previous single ‘Cosigns’ “electronica” or the album’s first single ‘Heavy Heart’ “indie rock” – it gives you a halfway-decent initial idea of what you’re getting into, but it ultimately comes up woefully short of properly describing the music.
Still, with a soaring slide guitar solo and a slow-moving pace, Strange isn’t far from Drive-By Truckers or the various bands of Jason Molina on ‘Hold The Line’. It’s a good sound for Strange, who underplays the vocal with a real sense of fragility and helplessness that elevates lines like, “You’ve taken something of mine/You’re reaching for more than my life.” It’s the kind of song that would suffer from any bombast, so Strange strips it back to its most essential elements.
‘Hold The Line’ isn’t a message song, at least not in the sense that it beats you over the head with an obvious call to arms. Instead, it’s a reflection on loss and heartbreak and time being so fleeting that you don’t actually know how powerful it is until it’s forcibly ripped from you. That’s not a message coming from a soapbox – it’s a message coming from a place of personal confusion and resolves. It doesn’t seem right or fair to expect that kind of hardened determination from a young child, so Strange tries to shoulder that burden, if only in some small way.
Check out the audio for ‘Hold The Line’ down below. Farm to Table is set for a June 17th release.