Made when she was still a teenager, Bella White’s debut album Just Like Leaving introduced the world to a truly one-of-a-kind musical talent: a finespun breed of country/folk both fresh in perspective and wholly steeped in bluegrass tradition, despite her upbringing in the Canadian city of Calgary. As she began sketching songs for her sophomore full-length, the 22-year-old singer/songwriter followed her instincts toward an even more daring and singular form of self-expression, allowing herself a newly heightened sense of musical freedom. “Even though I’m still so in love with bluegrass and that whole world, I wanted to figure out who these new songs were without trying to fit them into a particular style,” says White, a British Columbia-based musician who took up guitar at age eight and later learned to play banjo. “Once I started stepping outside those margins, it really opened the doors for me. I felt completely free to explore and experiment, without being held back by any preconceived ideas of what my music is supposed to be.”
Produced by Jonathan Wilson (Angel Olsen, Father John Misty), Among Other Things embodies a strangely enchanting sound that fully matches the immense depth of White’s inner world—an element brought to life through her lived-in exploration of such complex themes as searching for purpose, the resilience of the human heart, and the deep-rooted tension between restlessness and inertia. Recorded at Fivestar Studios in Topanga Canyon, the album emerged from her free-flowing collaboration with Wilson and a stacked lineup of musicians, including Big Thief guitarist Buck Meek, indie-folk singer/songwriter Erin Rae, Drew Erickson (a multi-instrumentalist/string arranger known for his work with Weyes Blood and Lana Del Rey), and White’s longtime bandmate Patrick M’Gonigle (on fiddle, violin, and tenor guitar). “It was especially exciting for me to have Buck involved with this record,” White notes. “He’s got such an incredible ear for weaving through the songs and finding those little empty spaces that could use a touch of magic.”
In a departure from the stripped-down sonic palette of Just Like Leaving, Among Other Things unfolds with a gorgeously textured but unfussy splendor, etched with such unexpected details as flourishes of organ and Fender Rhodes, delicate string arrangements, and the wild rumble of timpani. But even its most left-of-center moments, the 10-track album showcases the timeless country musicianship White first developed thanks to her father (a Virginia native who played in bluegrass bands all throughout her childhood) and later honed through years of making the rounds at leading roots-music festivals. To that end, each song is firmly grounded in White’s nuanced acoustic-guitar work and deeply affecting voice—an instrument imbued with wisdom well beyond her years, capable of telegraphing soulful world-weariness and whole-hearted compassion with a captivating grace.
For White, the writing of a brightly swaying and steel-guitar-laced track called “Numbers” helped catalyze the unbridled creative energy that permeates all of Among Other Things. “I wrote that song the day that my first record came out, which ended up happening in the middle of the pandemic,” she recalls. “I started writing about the confusion of nothing as going as planned, and realizing that maybe that’s just the way life is. The way the lyrics came to me was much more stream-of-consciousness than anything I’d done before—there was no pressure to appeal to a certain genre, and that felt like a real turning point. I just felt this incredible vastness.” In a testament to her innate eloquence as a lyricist, “Numbers” encompasses many of the elements that make White’s songwriting so spellbinding, comprising everything from clear-eyed observation (“The flowers my mama bought me/They only keep for two weeks/And then they just become another reminder/That he’s never gonna write to me”) to sharply poignant wit (“You would think that I should feel happy/But the truth is I feel spent/And the numbers they’ve been climbing/Just not enough to pay my rent”) to the kind of plucky self-awareness meant for free-spirited singing-along (“I’m still no good in lovin’/And lovin’ only leaves me losin’ anyhow”).
Another breakthrough for White, the raw and mournful “Flowers On My Bedside” took shape as she tapped into the bracing lucidity that sometimes accompanies heartache. “When I was writing that song, I had this odd sensation of feeling really broken and sad about a breakup but also really excited about what I was creating,” she says. “It felt like I was building my own little world within the song and growing as I wrote it. I found so much healing in that experience, I ended up coming up with seven other verses that didn’t make it onto the album.” Meanwhile, on “Break My Heart,” White transmutes her pain into a full-tilt anthem fueled by luminous organ melodies and fiercely uptempo rhythms. “Of all the songs I’ve written, ‘Break My Heart’ is probably the one that’s most explicitly about getting dumped,” she points out. “But then once we got into the studio, it grew into a bit of a rager—it’s a heartbreaker, but it’s also so fun and epic.”
Elsewhere on Among Other Things, White wrestles with the quiet turmoil of finding your way in the world, often revealing a poet’s gift for mining volumes of meaning from the smallest of details. On “Rhododendron,” with its lush strings and lilting piano work, she begins by narrating a serene moment of gazing out the window onto her mother’s backyard, then slowly builds the track into pensive meditation on her own capacity for unconditional love (“Could I be a mother or a lover/To something greater than my own instinct to suffer?/And would a sheep run if she knew she was for the slaughter/Or would she simply let her soft wool warm her daughter?”). “At the beginning of the pandemic I went to stay at my mom’s house, but she’d gotten stuck in Australia so I was there all alone with my cat,” White says of the song’s origins. “It was Mother’s Day and I was looking out the window and saw a robin building a nest, and I started asking myself all these existential questions about mothers and daughters. It became a song about me trying to make sense of the world, and also just feeling that vulnerability of needing my mother so badly.”
One of the most immediately commanding tracks on Among Other Things, “Marilyn” arose in a feverish burst of inspiration that White experienced on tour in Northern California in 2022. “My boyfriend and I were sitting in a café before soundcheck, and I overheard an older man saying all these very nasty things about his wife or partner,” she remembers. “My blood started to boil and I felt so upset for this woman that I’d never even met. Even though she’s probably a lot older than I am, my maternal instincts kicked in and I felt a real desire to somehow protect her.” Part character sketch, part incendiary outpouring, the gloriously sprawling “Marilyn” channels both sorrow and anger in equal measure, with White infusing so much tenderness into the track’s up-close portrait of everyday emotional violence (sample lyric: “All the time she spent/Learning to love again/What he thought was awful/Like her belly growing softer/After she birthed their baby daughter/I still cannot comprehend/All the sadness that I feel for sweet Marilyn”).
A near-lifelong songwriter who names Joni Mitchell and John Prine among her earliest influences, White wrote all of the songs on Among Other Things entirely on her own, mainly for the sake of preserving the intimacy of each track’s incisive introspection. And in that devotion to excavating her personal truth, White ultimately made her way to a greater clarity on her overall vision as an artist. “When I made my first album, I didn’t have much direction beyond loving that style of music and wanting to create something that showed that,” she says. “But with the new record, I felt a much stronger understanding of what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. It made me feel a lot more empowered in the whole process, and it brought me so much joy to see my songs become their own little universes. I hope when people hear this music, it leaves them with that same feeling of empowerment—like they’re completely free to do their own thing.
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