Amythyst Kiah is having a moment with Wary + Strange, an album that positions her among today’s most compelling singer-songwriters. Although she is an East Tennessee native, her personal lyrics somehow feel universal — this isn’t an album about rivers and mountains, but instead touches on identity (“Black Myself”), grief (“Wild Turkey”), and unsolicited advice (“Soapbox”). Written from a place of questioning and reckoning, a gently-played song like “Firewater” would satisfy anyone who enjoys an acoustic aesthetic, as well as those who draw confidence from the music of others.
“A lot of these songs come from a moment in my 20s when I was grappling with trauma while also trying to navigate the experience of being a Black and LGBT woman in a white suburban area in a Bible Belt town,” says Kiah, who moved to Johnson City after growing up in Chattanooga. “I’ve had moments of feeling othered in certain aspects of my life, and it took me a long time to figure out who I wanted to be and how to move through this world.”
With that perspective and a guitar in hand, she’s been sharing her music on stages ranging from the Grand Ole Opry to Newport Folk Festival to Jimmy Kimmel Live, where she performed “Black Myself.”
Upon announcing the record, she noted, “‘Black Myself’ is the first song I’ve written that was confrontational. I’d always made it a point to sing songs that anybody could relate to, but this was something that had been welling up inside me for a long time, and working with three other Black women in Our Native Daughters put me in the position where I finally had the courage to put those words out. The reception of the song so far has given me hope that there are people out there who are ready to confront the shared trauma of racism, to look within ourselves and see how we might be perpetuating racist beliefs, and to do what is needed to create equality for all people.”
Next month, Kiah (pronounced “KEE-uh”) is in the running in multiple categories for the Americana Music Honors & Awards. (As a solo artist, she’ll compete for Emerging Act of the Year, while “Black Myself” is up for Song of the Year. Our Native Daughters is also up for Duo/Group of the Year.) With this incredible career momentum, she’s criss-crossing the country in the months ahead: After a gig with Brandi Carlile and Sheryl Crow at the Gorge in Washington, she’ll be everywhere from Maine to Mexico, with a MerleFest gig in the mix too. Enjoy new music and some crowd favorites in our BGS Essentials Playlist with Amythyst Kiah below. And don’t miss our two-part Artist of the Month interview. Read part one here. Read part two here.
Photo credit: Sandlin Gaither