Courtney Patton’s 2018 album What It’s Like to Fly Alone presents a compelling scope of subjectivity and sacrifice as it relates to the human condition.
Through vibrant imagery and storytelling, Patton communicates a thematic threads the weave their way through the entirety of the work: perseverance, personal transcendence, and the prospect of forsaking unhappiness in favor of the pursuit of something greater. No track conveys this than the third track “Round Mountain,” which is told from the perspective of an unhappy wife for whom domestic life has become static.
The speaker, having engaged in infidelity, elects to leave it all behind and depart from the life that has exacerbated her unhappiness. Such lyrical content initially evokes a visceral response from the listener, but ultimately elicits feelings of sympathy and understanding. Simply put, this song is real. It paints a portrait of authenticity through complex dimension of a character’s choice that potentially reminds listeners of someone they know personally, or even of themselves.
The first track “Shove” incorporates the theme of perseverance in the face of adversity and provides an uplifting message concerning that oh-so challenging rise after the fall. “It’s still a long way up to getting back to who I was / And I watched the leaves fall down about ten times and grow back tough…” No lyric could relay this message as perfectly as Patton does here. Similarly, the titular track “What It’s Like to Fly Alone (Hawk Song)” reinforces much of the thematic foundation of the album largely through symbolic lyricism. The hawk, an adept hunter gifted with the freedom that comes with flight, serves to represent the search for fulfillment that characterizes each of Patton’s tracks.
The musicality of What It’s Like to Fly Alone serves to reinforce the thematic quality of Patton’s lyrics. At times, the musical accompaniment presents a contrast to the sometimes melancholic lyricism. However, a lot of the time, the harmony reflects Patton’s lonely, lamenting words. The greatest feature of the band is the violin. Its bowed strings greatly augment Patton’s melodic voice. Lloyd Maines’ steel pedal and guitar contributions lend a harmonic depth that serve their purpose of supporting Patton’s delivery. Similarly, the vocal harmony of Jamie Lin Wilson and Dan Tyminski lend a layered quality to the vocals and never threaten to outshine Patton.
Patton’s 2018 follow-up to 2015’s So This is Life continue her pursuit of both personal and universal understanding of humanity. What It’s Like to Fly Alone ignites into a roaring flame of passionate lyricism and instrumentation and burns slowly throughout the rest of its duration. Ultimately, each track relates to any listener and effectively showcases Patton’s gift for lyrical storytelling.