(Darling Records)
Add date: 8.27.2024    
Release date: 8.23.2024

Apple Music
Darling Records

The very first song Sara May learned to play on guitar was “Fish and Whistle” by John Prine. It’s about busting knuckles and scrubbing parking lots, being underpaid and overworked. It’s classic Prine: the story of an outsider trying to fit into an unforgiving world, laid over a perfectly weighted melody. May and her partner and bandmate Andrew McArthur were hard at work on an EP of cover songs in 2020 when the legendary songwriter passed away; they tracked “Long Monday” in tribute.

“It felt really natural,” May says about her return to playing country songs and Americana. “It felt like going home.”

You see, Sara May grew up a ways down a dirt road, just outside a small Ontario town best known for its Honda plant and its Potato Festival. Her family’s house was surrounded by corn fields, up the hill from the river, and her very first best friend lived in an old farmhouse nearby. His mom baked the best homemade bread and his dad was a long-haul trucker. She recalls so much about those years: getting stuck in the mud in the back field, squeezing juice out of oranges, lazing in the summer sun.

“I remember his mom’s warm smile so clearly, but to this day I can’t remember what his dad looked like,” says May. 

That tension, between the hazy glow of memories and a father’s stark absence, is part of what motivates ‘Legacy’, her latest album as Falcon Jane. Over the course of ten indie-leaning, alt-country tracks ‘Legacy’ explores the great characters of country music: the drinker, the vagabond, the neglecting father. She deftly presents these characters, flaws and all, with a clarity and empathy that feels almost transgressive, with a loving touch that seems to step too far across our current rural / urban social and political divides. But these are Sara’s stories too: her rural childhood, her move to the big city of Toronto, her current home in the working class town of Shelburne, Ontario, and her life on the road as a musician. She writes these characters, yes, but she’s lived them too.

“I wrote a trucker song after hearing Little Feat’s ‘Willin’’and Fred Eaglesmith’s ‘Trucker Speed’,” says May. “I wrote a nostalgic ballad about paving over the dirt road I grew up on, and a last-ditch plea with a bawling chorus about letting people down and feeling empty. I wrote about parties and drinking and staying up till six. Facing the devil and not giving a damn. Saying goodbye and starting over.” 

‘Legacy’ is Sara May’s return, recollection, reinvention, yes, but also her culmination. It’s a perfect moment looking both forward and backward towards the same North Star. 

And Falcon Jane’s transformation on ‘Legacy’ isn’t just lyrical. Alongside producer José Contreras (By Divine Right), Sara and Andrew have refined the band’s vision—pushing toward an alt-country folk sound that reminds of contemporaries like Waxahatchee and Angel Olsen and heroes like Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Neil Young. May’s voice, the one constant from the bedroom-leaning sound of 2015’s ‘Alive n Well’ EP, through the blissed out dream pop of her 2018 debut album ‘Feelin’ Freaky’, to the sprawling indie rock of 2020’s ‘Faith’, sounds fuller, more powerful here, perched elegantly atop the warm, Nashville-leaning production. The result is both striking and blindingly obvious. It’s also intensely personal. 

“I can’t remember if my paternal grandfather ever held down a job (besides playing accordion in exchange for beer at bars) but like my friend’s dad, he was also absent a lot of the time,” May says. “In true alcoholic fashion, he would disappear for extended periods at a time and sporadically show up and cause chaos for his eight children and wife, my grandmother. During one of his visits home he burned their house down after learning they had bed bugs.”

If a legacy is how someone is remembered—then what does one make of this? Is it a story of trauma? Of being down and out? Of rebellion? All of the above?

There’s that tension again, between the experience and the impact, the action and its long shadow, lingering well after someone has gone. Celebrities get glowing obituaries, rich folks put their names on buildings, but what is the legacy of an absent dad? A meandering alcoholic? For someone who never moved out of their small town, who kept their head down and went to work every day—what is left of this person when they’re gone?

Perhaps May put it best on the ‘Legacy’ standout “Man of Action”: 

“Take my word with a grain of dirt / Burn my body so it isn't heavy / Release me to the earth / My life, my work, my legacy.”

Maybe at the end of the day you don’t get to leave anything that lasts forever. Maybe the best you can hope for is a song.