As the old commercial said: We will sell no wine before its time. Thus it is with “Somebody to Hold,” the new single from the winning tag team of Brett Ryan Stewart and Amelia White. They wrote the song seven years ago, in a day and age when, well, pretty much everybody had somebody to hold if they were in the market for that sort of thing; it wasn’t such a pressing issue. The song languished for years until there came the annus horribilus with its isolation, house arrest, and a genuine international jones for somebody to hold. It was time to sell the wine, dig that girl!
Stewart recalls coming across an old iPhone demo of the tune at the start of lockdown and being instantly transported back. “It was a different world. And yet, still, that hunger for human connection was lingering in our subconscious enough to summon these lyrics,” he says. “Who’d have known that, years later, that notion would be amplified tenfold by a global quarantine.”
It’s not just a single though. “Somebody to Hold” is from a four-tune EP called 11 A.M. (released June 4, 2021), and serves as the project’s first single and opening track. Certainly, in the sea of hollow commercialism that characterizes much of modern music, the raw transparency of this single is, no doubt, capable of catching one by surprise. That being said, this courageous exhibition of authenticity has come to be expected from these two seasoned artists who, over the years, have forged an indelible bond of friendship and creativity, largely founded on shared past struggles — such as addiction, Amelia’s having grown up gay in a Southern conservative household, and Brett’s lifelong battle with a type 1 diabetes.
The past few years — even the Year of the Mask — have been actually rather good for White. The reaction to her 2019 album Rhythm of the Rain turned out not too shabby, and she (by humble Americana standards), has kinda “made it.” She garnered acclaim from prestigious sources such as NPR, which described the album as “consistent in quality and full of insinuating hooks, slyly sleepy singing, and lean jangly backing … looks at the current political frenzy from a seasoned bohemian remove,“ and Rolling Stone, which named the title track one of their “10 Best Country and Americana Songs to Hear Now” in January 2019, noting “the steady pitter-patter of a drum loop which wouldn’t be out of place on an early Sheryl Crow Recording.”
Accompanying the song is a video by Gabriel and Kaye’s video production company Duende Vision. Dig into it and you’ll see how it is to only feel one-sixteenth of your COVID blahs. It’s not just music that heals, it’s work release.
It is also unsurprising that Stewart, a five-star producer of countless acclaimed projects through his WireBird Productions in Nashville, and who has had his music placed in high-profile shows like Netflix’s Queer Eye, along with co-producer Irakli Gabriel, were able to create such a rich sonic landscape — especially considering the formidable cast of musicians and engineers “Somebody to Hold” employs. The ensemble includes a who’s who list of Nashville’s burgeoning Americana scene, notably Gabriel and his wife Anana Kaye, who recently released a Stewart-produced album with the late David Olney; and Paul Niehaus, who has played pedal steel with the likes of Calexico, Yo La Tengo, Iron & Wine, and, of course, Jon Byrd. “Somebody to Hold” was mixed by Joe Costa, whose engineering credits include projects by Ben Folds and Kesha, and was mastered by Tommy Wiggins.
All in all, by putting to music the type of wordless longing that has characterized so much of our recent collective experience, “Somebody to Hold” acts as a sort of salve for the very wounds it lays bare. Just as the tune yearns for the sort of home that can only come from love and companionship, so too does it find a perfect home in the unique and shared trials of our modern day. Truly, in the courageous expressiveness of both Stewart and White, one cannot help but feel that a pain shared is, indeed, a pain halved. If my math is right, halved pain from four songs — and factoring in Tennessee sales tax — comes out to be an EP, which cuts your pain level to one-sixteenth of its former self. What’s better than that?
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The new EP, 11 A.M. — which includes the song “Somebody to Hold” — from Brett Ryan Stewart & Amelia White, is available here and is released domestically through WireBird Records, internationally via The Orchard.