Melissa Bryan hits the music scene full force today with her debut solo album Return of the Woman, a spirited collection that celebrates the human ability to thrive despite, and sometimes because of, adversity.
Bryan's songs are full of frustration, hope, and an outrageous joyfulness. Her lyrics, at times funny, endearing, and passionate, at times angry, remind the listener why she fell in love with rock n' roll in the first place. Lyrics to songs such as the intentionally over-the-top "Rock n Roll Saved My Life Last Night" make us remember what it's like to open ourselves up to great, and profoundly life-changing, music.
Rock and Roll saved my life last night/it's been so long since I was inspired/now I woke up baptized with desire/Rock and roll saved my life last night
The songs speak of the disappointment of coming of age in a patriarchal society and a deep spiritual yearning that can be explored, and perhaps quenched, through music.
I'm so sad about Jesus/there was a time when he held my hand/I'm still looking for salvation/and a way to the promise land
Strummer's singing on the radio/but it's a Marley song/says he's looking for what I am/and it sounds like it won't be long
In the video to the album's title track, a tough, beautiful Bryan sings defiantly and without self-pity of her struggles with the arthritis that settled into her joints when she was only fifteen years old.
My eyes were heavy and my hair full of grease/I was locked up from a disease/then I realized I held the key/and I stand here finally fucking set free
Bryan then turns into the 50 Foot Woman (from the 1958 American sci-fi film Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) and tromps through Austin, terrorizing local hipsters and visitors to the state's capitol building, shuddering as millions of bats swarm her, and finally cutting the head off of the beloved Stevie Ray Vaughan statue. Bryan makes it clear that -- like many of her fans -- she's had enough of paying homage to the "annoying old school Austin music scene."
Return of the Woman's album cover shows an open-mouthed Bryan standing, cigarette in hand, next to a pink scooter on a grim street in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. It's just this sense of unexpected beauty in the midst of struggle that permeates Return of the Woman; Bryan clearly relates to the Bosnian people and their ability to live life fully despite terrible suffering and difficulties. Her song "New (Brave) World" celebrates the people of Sarajevo's ability to find joy even while living in the midst of a war zone.
"I am the muscle!" they scream with cannons and grenades/in the churches and cathedrals you still pray/men sing the call from the rubble of the minaret/refuse to let your former life become just a silhouette/time stands still when you're living in the moment
Bryan's personal life shows a commitment to the themes of feminism and empowerment for women and grrrls that she so deftly addresses in her music. A longtime activist in the movement to end violence against women, Bryan also band coaches and serves on the Board of Directors at Girls Rock Camp Austin, a day camp dedicated to supporting "girls and women of all backgrounds and abilities through musical education and performance."
Anyone who came of age listening to great female artists from Blondie to Liz Phair to Best Coast -- or anyone who wishes they had -- will want to celebrate the release of Return of the Woman. Melissa Bryan lets us know without question that she's both wild and mature enough for the spotlight of her solo debut. At times raucous, at times melodic and beautiful, her album exuberantly reminds us that life -- however painful -- must be enjoyed to the absolute fullest.