A spin through history reveals years, decades and centuries packed with war, tumult, pandemics and more, with each new day leaving many folks as unsure about the future as the last. Delusions of Grandeur, the full-length debut from Sophie Gault and her band (named after Julie Miller’s song “Broken Things”), hones in on the present realities faced in America and elsewhere, where the rich get richer while the rest of us do our best to hold on—and does it in the best way possible, via songs that resonate through one’s soul.
The album sets the mood at its outset, with “Golden Rule” painting the portrait of someone struggling with the cards life has dealt her: “My arms are tired and my hands are sore/And I don’t listen to music much anymore/I just listen to the buzzin’ of this big machine/’til second shift is over.” When she laters sings, “I haven’t lost my faith in rock ’n’ roll/I haven’t lost my faith in the golden rule,” you almost believe her; in truth, as her tired drawl indicates, she’s resigned to her fate.
Some say her songs conjure the timeless feel of the classic country sides of the 1970s and, if we’re talking outlaw country, they certainly do, but I hear her more as the spiritual offspring of such alt.country stalwarts as Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams. She matches poetic lyrics to melodies that amplify her emotive vocals, building the songs line by line into cinematic short stories. “Churches and Bars,” for instance, opens with the camera swooping in on a small town from high above: “Churches and bars are all under the stars/and there’s snow turnin’ black on the ground/and there’s railways and freight yards and rivers and trains/and a bus that can carry me out.”
Some songs are about escape, however fleeting it may be. In “Golden Rule,” for example, she dreams of moving to Pensacola; and in “Dashboard,” she seeks comfort by driving out of town: “Put some John Prine on/Passed a couple graveyards and a rusty old boxcar/And I found an open sky to look upon.” In “Feel Better,” she prays that a perfect night will last longer than she knows it will. And “Heavy Metal” finds her seeking to drown out the memories of a past lover via hard rock. Other songs, such as the Logan Ledger duet “Trouble,” dwell on fraying and/or frayed relationships…
…and much more. “Fire and Ice,” for instance, finds her looking back with the weary wisdom seemingly gleaned from many a Bruce Springsteen song: “My childhood days are over and I’d just give about anything/for tears of joy instead of sad smiles/But fear will cut you like a sword no matter if you’re rich or poor/Don’t let it tear you up from the inside/Don’t let it take the light out of your eyes.“
Another highlight, “Long Walk Home,” is essentially about “scrapin’ the bottom of a bowl of luck,” while the closing “Parting Ways”—which, written by Ned Brower, is the lone song she didn’t write or cowrite on the album—is a powerful meditation on mortality.
While the album itself was produced by Gault, bandmate/bassist Twon Haugen and Ryon Westover (whose home studio they recorded in), the recording was mixed and mastered by Ray Kennedy, best known as part of Steve Earle’s “Twangtrust.” As a result, the soundscape is beyond reproach. Delusions of Grandeur has a timeless feel to it. Run, don’t walk, to your favorite record store (or streaming service) and pick it up. My hunch is that, in the decades to come, we’ll be looking back on it the way some of us do Earle’s Guitar Town and Lucinda’s Sweet Old World. It’s that good.
The track list: