Famously, St. Louis is a cultural and geographic crossroads. It’s the beginning of the West, the East’s front door, a window on the South, and the jewel in the middle of the Mississippi. St. Louis embraces all of the quintessentially American musical styles – blues, country music, soul and R&B, Southern rock, mountain folk, to name a few. With typical Midwestern modesty, singer-songwriter Beth Bombara might be reluctant to call herself the darling of the city’s musical scene. So we’ll say it for her: no artist better reflects the depth and breadth of St. Louis music – its traditionalism, eclecticism, respect for history and craft, and overwhelming American-ness – than Bombara does.
The local press concurs. Bombara has been counted three times among the “Best of the Year” by the Riverfront Times, the arts paper that’s the last word on events and culture in St. Louis. Her deeply personal version of Americana contains echoes of country music at its most heartbreaking, rock at its grittiest, and folk-pop songwriting at its most confessional and honest. It’s won her a dedicated audience in her hometown: she’s performed on local television and sung at the Whitaker Festival in the Missouri Botanical Garden. But to make Evergreen, the best album she’s ever cut and the fulfillment of all of her early promise, she had to leave St. Louis and decamp to the Rocky Mountains. There, in a secluded cabin among the pines, Beth Bombara crafted a set of songs that are destined for acclaim far beyond her hometown. She’s shared the stage with Rhett Miller, Old 97’s, Lilly Hiatt, and Josh Ritter. Now, people outside St. Louis are taking notice: the album has been previewed by the likes of Pop Matters, The Bluegrass Station, and LA Weekly, who named it their album of the week and said “Bombara’s voice shines…every tone is tinged with emotion, nothing is wasted. By the end, you’ll feel wiped out, yet you’ll want to listen to it again.” She’s even gotten spins on BBC Radio.
Evergreen is a song-cycle in the truest sense: the tracks share themes, a tone, and a particular sound that manages to be simultaneously raw and dreamlike. It’s an album with flow, and to demonstrate that, she’s shot one continuous video for the album’s first two songs. “I Only Cry When I’m Alone” and “Upside Down” both foreground Bombara’s rich, resonant country-pop vocals and Samuel Gregg’s stinging electric guitar; they’re twin expressions of the same set of powerful musical ideas. But while the second video picks up immediately after the first, the attitude of the two clips couldn’t be more different. The first clip is elegant, glamorous and dramatically lit – Bombara dresses in a series of magnificent outfits suitable for a night onstage at the Grand Ole Opry. For the second, she dons a curly wig and plays a janitor at the theater where the first video is set (she even sings into her feather-duster). It’s two sides of an accomplished, thoughtful artist who has never let her sense of solemnity get in the way of her playfulness.