“Falling in love is easy,” was my first remark upon hearing “Understand” by Anna St. Louis from her forthcoming proper debut full-length If Only There Was A River. Maybe it’s due to being born on the opposite side of the river from Ms. St. Louis, but growing up in the sunset asphalt tint of Los Angeles. Maybe it’s our shared red hair and pale pink, freckled skin. Or maybe it’s because my first real foray into music writing was a weekly country column. Nonetheless, “Understand” checks all of the boxes.
St. Louis came to Los Angeles by way of Kansas City, Missouri. Last year she released a tape of the first songs she recorded after moving to the City of Angels, aptly called First Songs. It was a grab bag of favorites that called reference to her idols and influences. “Understand” finds the singer-songwriter stepping out on her own for the first time.
Los Angeles’ base in folk and country is often forgotten. From the easy sounds of Laurel Canyon to The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo – the one album where Gram Parsons joined forces with Roger McGuinn, a year after David Crosby left the band – the Dream Factory has long played a common and unsteady home to the sounds mostly associated with Nashville. And it’s that uneasy history that St. Louis taps into on “Understand”.
The track is filled with uncertainty. Soft acoustic guitar chords repeat, brushed softly with purposeful repetition. “Untangled finally… put it all out on the table / understand me to you understand,” sings the young crooner. “Waiting at my doorway… you do do believe it’s time / trouble won’t you knock on… any door but mine.”
The diction here is all about the pause and the clever play on the expected that follows. Anticipation and uncertainty linger in the ellipsis. Caprice sums up the feeling, but the song is anything but a capriccio. It’s form is steady and clear, but the feeling behind the moments are fickle. This gives “Understand” an added nature of play that shows a songwriting truly strutting her gifts.
Then the strings come in, which are provided by multi-instrumentalist Oliver Hill along with production from King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas and Kevin Morby. What started out as a simple country croon becomes a lush landscape of emotions, and suspense mounts.
There is no easy answer in St. Louis’ track, however. Instead, “Understand” gets foggier and the love story brought forth in the beginning fades further away. Maybe the reality is that the only understanding is in the anticipation and that pause – the strength in the heat and uncertainty – like the beauty of pink dusk ahead of looming nightfall.
HURRY – LISTEN – ANNA ST. LOUIS
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHANTAL ANDERSON