Kalli North and Jessy Wilson have been Muddy Magnolias since 2013. North, a Texan who moved to Mississippi and then Nashville, has rich, country-Delta roots influenced by an eclectic mix of everything from Alison Krauss to James Taylor to the Grateful Dead. Wilson, raised in Brooklyn, grew up listening to the likes of Aretha Franklin, Notorious B.I.G., and Smokey Robinson. As a teenager, she went on to sing backup for Alicia Keys and then worked on songwriting with her mentor, John Legend.
The two talented women met in Nashville and teamed up to create, as detailed on their website, American music: “A mile-wide river that beckons black and white, urban and rural, dreamer and doer alike to launch their vessels. All the streams of style and genre flow into it; its tributaries are blues and jazz, mountain and folk, rock, soul, and R&B.”
If it’s possible to capture the true essence of this idea in a single work, this debut album does it. Broken People simultaneously resonates as familiar and innovative. It is built by pieces of musical history but assembled using an unprecedented amalgamation of sounds.
While catchy and engaging, the album holds a socially conscious message — let’s come together as individuals and heal our collective brokenness — without being preachy. I’ve been playing it on repeat since it came out on October 14th.
The album kicks off with the title track, “Broken People.” Full of soulful, rock-distorted harmonies singing “Do you go to bed hungry, tell me, do ya?” the duo begins sending their message of awareness from the get-go.
The second song, “Brother, What Happened?” really hones in on the album’s statement of purpose. As if holding a conversation with each other, the women sing, “What happened to this world? We just don’t love anymore,” and “Who gon’ do it, if we don’t do it?”
It’s akin to the significance of the Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is the Love?” But rather than a call to the system, it focuses more on an individual level — what can we, as unique people, do to help create change by being present and kind? The answer: “My momma told me, don’t throw hate around / Because there’s room for us all in this world / We’ve got each other, my sisters and brothers / So take your love and spread it all around.”
The album goes on to include songs of encouragement (“Got It Goin’ On”) and punchy, dance-inducing tunes (“Devil’s Teeth”). It also slows things down with some beautifully soul-grabbing tracks (“Take Me Home” and “Train”).
What I noticed while listening through the album is that the women never give up their control and power. The titles of songs like “Why Don’t You Stay?” or “I Need a Man” had me wary at first, thinking to myself, “Is this about to turn into every other album about a woman not being able to function without a man’s love?” However, the songs are sung with unapologetic prowess.
“Why Don’t You Stay?” includes a phenomenal gospel-rock finish, both women riffing and belting as if handing their hearts to the listener — simultaneously vulnerable and courageous. “I Need a Man” repeats the line “I need a man that lets me be the woman I am” in the chorus. It expresses the idea of looking for a partner that accepts a woman with all of the strengths and flaws she comes with, a message I can completely get behind.
The pinnacle of the entire album is the last song, “Leave it to the Sky,” featuring John Legend himself on vocals and piano. It concludes the 11-track journey with freeing hope. As Wilson mentions to The Wall Street Journal, “This song is about giving that pain and those struggles to a higher power.” It’s about “surrendering to the ebb and flow. There will be joy. There will be pain. Breathe through it and know that what goes down must come up.”
Wilson continues to state that the track is a good summation of what Broken People is about: “Two words that sum up our mentality in writing these songs are ‘honest’ and ‘progressive.’ Honest about the brokenness inherent in the human condition and progressive in the hope we believe is available for everyone.”
As the track, and overall message of the album, concludes, “All of this would be better if we live together.”
Muddy Magnolias are currently playing shows around the South and Mexico. For more information on the duo, upcoming shows, and Broken People, please visit the Muddy Magnolias website.