Artist: Leah Shaw
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Song: “Pretty Mama”
Album: Play Beautifully
Release Date: July 30, 2021
In Their Words: “The guitar, harmonica and fiddle-based song ‘Pretty Mama’ closes the album. I think of ‘Pretty Mama’ as really a prayer to my mom. I wrote it just before she died, I played and sang it at her memorial service, and while she was still physically with us at the time, due to how her condition had worked so slowly over time, I had long been imagining that her spirit had been leaving this world in these sort of waves or pieces, and it made me happy to imagine that she was then constituting herself in a sort of beautiful afterlife place, bit by bit, and maybe waiting there in peace to become whole as the rest of her that was still grounded with us in this world, wrapped up and passed on.
“As I was thinking or praying in this way, I thought, well I am operating out of a very dark place right now, and she taught me better — so while I do hope her spirit is with me somehow, I also kinda hope she didn’t see these latest round of life choices! At this time, I was by myself a lot, without a partner, I didn’t live near my family, and I had just quit my job; I was feeling very alone. I drank too much, I didn’t treat myself with a lot of self-love. So in this song I thought and prayed: Mom, if you are there, and if there is any guidance and protection you can give, please show me that — ‘let me know,’ as the final verse says!
“Of all the album’s songs, ‘Pretty Mama’ was clearest in my mind in terms of arrangement. Along with the bass and acoustic guitar, it would have two instruments in conversation with one another: cello, an instrument my mom adored and I which think reflected her warm and grounded personality, and then violin — a miniature of the cello, beautiful also but less calm, a bit more frantic. In other words, me! And then there would be the very important harmonica solo, which sounds as lonely as I felt at the time writing the song. The beautiful minimal backing vocals bring a little warmth and hope at the end, and this along with the song’s placement at the end of the project is meant to give my listeners and myself a sigh of relief — after the journey, a deep, calming breath. And then we keep on.” — Leah Shaw
Photo credit: Rodgers Dameron