What makes Lizzie West such a refreshing artist is that, regardless of the style in which she casts any given song, she’s a “folk” singer in the best possible sense, a singer-songwriter throwback who never reaches for the “anti-” or “freak-” prefixes that bring the sincerity of the current crop of trendier folk artists (Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart) into question. Her melodies and song structures, while always memorable, are simple and straightforward, never drawing attention from their content. And given the title—and the great black-and-white photo of a massively unhappy child on the cover—of her latest album, it’s obvious that West has quite a lot to say.
I Pledge Allegiance to Myself, unsurprisingly, devotes much of its running time to West’s forceful confidence, her wry sense of humor, and her ongoing process of self-actualization, and songs like “Looking For Leonard Cohen (Part One),” the ambling “Reaching For Light,” and the title track—which combines a spoken word poem with a refrain of “America The Beautiful”—build an image of West as a smart, insightful artist worthy of more than just a casual listen. Like the best folk songwriters, though, West is no less effective when looking outward, chronicling difficult relationships (“God Damn That Man” is a fierce indictment of a cheating lover, while “Rope Me In And Smoke Me” chastises those who take entirely too long in trying to be seductive) and political outrages (“19 Miles To Baghdad,” with its exceptionally well-chosen imagery, trumps the whole of Springsteen’s The Rising) with the same confident perspective.
The album also surprises for the breadth of styles, from stripped-down acoustic folk and accessible alt-country on “God Damn That Man” to a little light reggae on a cover of “Get Up, Stand Up,” West & The White Buffalo (her boyfriend and co-producer, Anthony Kieraldo) use to get her points across. It probably goes without saying that the occasional use of auto-tune wouldn’t exactly jibe with West’s overall DIY aesthetic, but there are a few moments when West’s vocals, which recall Natalie Merchant, do get away from her, which would be less of a problem if the whole of I Pledge Allegiance to Myself didn’t demand an authoritative, commanding delivery. Still, albums that stand as such singular declarations of a cohesive, clear-eyed artistic vision are rare, and in that regard I Pledge Allegiance to Myself confirms West’s status as a first-rate folk artist.