Garrison Starr | Girl I Used To Be | (self-released)
4 1/2 stars out of Five
Shamed due to her sexuality, and shunned early on, Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Garrison Starr effectively strikes back by way of her brash but brilliant upcoming album, Girl I Used to Be. A decidedly defiant repudiation of the hypocrisy often fostered by religion and those that preach intolerance, it elevates Starr to the upper realms of artistic expression and a stature similar to that held by Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Melissa Etheridge, Gillian Welch and any number of other outspoken artists who have put their credibility on the line in order to express their principles and purpose.
The initial indication of Starr’s insurgent stance comes via the album’s first single, “The Devil In Me,” a song that confirms her resolute determination to reclaim her humanity and reject the indignity and humiliation she was subjected to due to the intolerance of the elders in her evangelistic church community. She lays the case for all to hear in the songs’s compelling chorus:
I lost my youth hiding the devil in me / Broke in two fighting the devil in me / Is that really all you see / The devil in me. “This song is about taking my power back,” Starr tells American Songwriter. “I grew up in evangelical Christianity, and I was ostracized because of my sexuality. I was also outed, so I didn’t really get to tell my story the way I wanted to. I didn’t even know how I felt about my sexuality before I was told how I should feel about it. I was told I would be given ‘tough love until I repented from my sin’—of being gay. The pain of that rejection and abandonment from my community broke my heart. I got bitter and angry, and for while, I was simply surviving.”
That feeling is further expressed in the sobering “Don’t Believe In Me” which finds Starr questioning the precepts thrust on her early in life. How can I believe in something that don’t believe in me, she asks. I can’t find any comfort in a God I’ve never known.
“The message I hope to convey is that through the struggle, I got stronger,” Starr says in retrospect. “I got wiser. I got free. But I had to work my ass off for it.”
Notably then, for all the anguish and anger stirred in the wake of that marginalization she suffered, Girl I Used To Be shares a surprisingly sublime set of melodies—they’re still driven and determined, and yet they’re also filled with a quiet resolve. Nowhere is that more apparent than on the subdued ballad, “Make Peace With It,” a tune that finds her coming to the conclusion that acceptance is the first step in finding any kind of contentment. It’s not easy, she admits but clearly she’s ready to summon the strength she needs to overcome her adversity and then move forward.
Starr credits producer Neilson Hubbard, the man responsible for overseeing the proceedings and helping to bring her efforts to fruition. “Making this record with Neilson Hubbard was a dream come true,” she insists. “He’s such a fearlessly honest dude and I was excited to just get in a space with him and pour my heart out. I knew he’d tell me when it was real. We go way back to old Mississippi days—some of the best memories I have of making music.”
Those searing sentiments are also found in the song simply titled “Run,” a track that aptly expresses her absolute intention to stand up to any attempt to dehumanize her in any way.
So too, “Make Peace With It,” finds Starr fearlessly reconciling her past with a present and future that only she can command.
“I love ‘Make Peace With It’ and ‘Run,’” she says, singling out the two songs for special mention. “They both represent the journey the record takes, from the fight to the forgiveness to the questions that lie ahead.”
Indeed, Starr has plenty she can be proud of. The album provides her both with vindication and a catharsis, all part of Starr’s struggle for acceptance. “I’ve been breathing underwater, I’ve been trying to be brave,” she confides in the album’s final track “Dam That’s Breaking.”
Clearly she’s succeeded.
“This record is special in the sense that it feels inspired to me for the first time in awhile,” she insists. “It’s honest and raw and unpretentious—it feels like me. Mostly, though, this record feels like a life that’s come full-circle. I’m grateful for the opportunity to tell my story, and I hope somebody somewhere connects with it.”
Given the emphatic emotion that Starr shares throughout, there’s little doubt that those hopes will be fulfilled.