Album Review: Awful Purdies — ‘The Great Unraveling’

The Awful Purdies’ new release, The Great Unraveling is a defining statement for these accomplished musicians who combine their strengths, with wearied joy, to perform miracles.

The songs are timely and timeless. The album is proud but not boastful, strong but not brutal, both wise and playful. The sheer quality of the material and the musicians’ deep understanding of the great American songbook allow the songs to feel familiar even on initial listen. The Purdies have taken another step forward both sonically and lyrically to become leaders in the Americana music scene.

The album is a different kind of new, resisting discardable novelty to mine the earth of tradition and voice songs that reflect 2020’s tumult of social upheaval.

The genius of the Purdies, expressed throughout their career, is their unflinching commitment to beauty through collaboration. They achieve greatness by inviting others to share in it. Their folk roots make the tendency to gesture toward injustice a natural fit, and their unflinching feminism is a foundation for their unwavering generosity. They’re capable of potent magic.

The instrumentation on The Great Unraveling is tight and innovative, and the harmonies have never sounded better. The instruments shine in different moments; whether solo or as a flourish in the background, instruments and vocals contribute to the wholeness of each song.

The thematic power of The Great Unraveling stands up and answers to the ugliness and horror that we have witnessed in 2020. And the themes gain power as they intertwine lyrically throughout. A whole is woven even as different Purdies are credited for different songs. “Morning Glory” is a sweet and gentle opener that makes a simple statement against misogynist entitlement. “Why would I be small?” uses a child’s question to discuss the importance of growth and prizing your uniqueness, taking up space without taking it from others.

“In the Dust” is a stark, beautiful meditation on reconciling loss, when memory becomes a venom that leaves you breathless. The title track, “The Great Unraveling,” allows Marcy Rosenbaum’s warm voice to create a holding space, inviting you to join her in confronting the changing world with “arms wide open and with fists held tight.”

The songs are art before they are politics, so never stray into didacticism; however, because they’re real, they also stay far from any fantasy. The result is a catchy album that happens to be about climate change, oppression, friendship, solitude, anger, food and joy. The final track, “Dragging Hope,” provides a perfect conclusion for the year: When you cannot see what good things might be ahead, drag hope behind you.

The album is resolutely uplifting. There are songs of empowered celebration, and the joy of being alive erupts and sparkles consistently throughout the whole. To hear this album and to really listen gives a lesson in how to be a better human in each facet of life. Although nothing will beat watching the Purdies perform live, this soundtrack provides emotional and spiritual guidance through the remainder of the great unraveling yet to occur, until they come together again.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 290.

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