Back in the 1990s, substantive lyrics paired with catchy melodies were the norm for pop radio. Look no further than the commercial success of artists like Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, and others for proof. But, then, for whatever reason, pop rose to the surface, leaving the depths to the be plumbed, and so very well, by the rising milieus of Americana and Triple-A.
Singer/songwriter Katie Pruitt was born smack dab in the middle of the ’90s, apparently soaking up the decade’s musical ethos in utero and after, as made apparent on her debut album, Expectations. Rare are first-album lyrical voices so fully formed and fully engaging as Pruitt’s. Rarer still are they embedded within the kind of hooks and arrangements that songwriters hope to someday catch an earful of. Yet, song after song, Pruitt delivers on every level — writing, performance, and production (with help from producer Michael Robinson).
The real weight of Expectations lies in the topics taken on. This isn’t just a batch of well-written love songs, though those are there, too. Rather, Pruitt swings for the fences, leaving it all on the field. She had to because her life experiences, up to now, have included internal (and external) struggles with mental health, familial stress over sexual orientation, personal reckoning with true love, and professional pressures from multiple sources. Pruitt takes it all and pours it into poetry.
Tackling mental health from various perspectives, Pruitt lays bare her own inner battle with depression on the soaring anthem of liberation that is “My Mind’s a Ship (That’s Going Down),” then moves on to confront the shock of adulthood on the John-Mayer-wishes-he-wrote-this hit-in-waiting that is “Expectations.” Further in, she offers a compassionate take on the anxiety and other issues of a former lover in the thoroughly captivating “Grace Has a Gun.”
All of that would — and should — be enough to prove Pruitt’s worth, but, wait, there’s more. Another hat-trick of tunes dives into her coming out process. Heartbreakingly raw and tender, “Normal” details her days of trying to find where she fit in high school and college, all while being told by everyone that who she was and how she feels was wrong. It’s a song that any and every gay person will readily, sadly relate to.
“Georgia,” similarly, uses a gorgeously sparse setting to recount the coming out trauma of being shamed by her family in the name of religion. “If I told my mom, she would scream at the top of her lungs, saying I don’t belong,” Pruitt sings, saving the TKO for the tag, “Sure hope she’s wrong.” The things we do to each other are bad enough, but using faith to justify those actions is unspeakably destructive. Luckily, Pruitt and her parents have since sorted things out, with more than a little help from these songs.
The third entry in that particular trilogy is the gloriously triumphant “Loving Her,” which finds Pruitt flipping the proverbial bird to all the haters of the world and shrugging off the shame they work so hard to impose on her. “If loving her’s a choice, she’s all I’m gonna choose. No way you can sway me in another’s favor,” she sings defiantly, adding, “Some people choose Buddha, Jesus, or booze, but her body’s my temple and her soul is my savior.” Preach, Katie Pruitt. Preach.
This album, sadly, won’t sell 33 million copies like Jagged Little Pill did, but it is, nevertheless, just as important a debut as that was. Honestly, for queer kids in crisis, it’s arguably even more important… if only pop radio would play it so that those kids could hear it.