Delayed Plays: Coyote Red by Bailey Bigger

I hear echoes of an old soul throughout the 10 songs that make up Bailey Bigger’s Coyote Red. I stumbled upon it, her full-length debut, in late November—a solid eight months after its release—by way of an Apple Music recommendation and was soon blown away by the breezy melodies and intricate wordplay flowing through my headphones. Now, after four weeks and more plays than I can count, the songs feel as if they’ve been with me forever and a day.

As a whole, Coyote Red is two parts folk and one part country, with a dash of blues mixed in every now and again. The melodies are seemingly drawn from the collective unconsciousness, i.e. they’re familiar but not, while her poetic lyrics trade in love, hope and metaphors. (She wrote or co-wrote eight of the 10 tracks.) This worthwhile Memphis Commercial Appeal article delves into the intricacies of her life and inspirations, but for those who’d rather not click through: The twenty-something singer-songwriter grew up in a farming family in Marion, Ala., wrote her first song at age 6, and began playing clubs in and around Memphis while in her teens. 

The album opens with “You, Somehow,” about how a new love ignites in her something she thought had fallen dormant. “No Falling Out of Love,” which she wrote when she was 16, also explores the glory of love. “South Dakota,” on the other hand, calls out ignorance and callousness, while “Black Eyed Susan,” written by Jed Zimmerman, celebrates the flower that’s often confused for the sunflower. The touching “Wyly,” written for her brother, vows to “build a shrine for our innocence/and a castle for our dreams” and to protect him, always; musically speaking, it reminds me of a Nanci Griffith song.

Her song for her dog, “Coyote Red,” is something every pet owner will identify with—at least, those of us who allow our furry friends to share our beds. “Running from the Water” conjures that moment when it feels like love is gone for good. “The Levee” is a song I swear I’ve heard on and off since my teen years, yet it’s an original—the last song she wrote for the album, in fact, and inspired by her relationship with an ex-boyfriend. It’s a bluesy tour de force. 

The well-placed “God Help Me Stop Forgiving” is a plea to let her harden her heart, swallow her tears and leave her toxic partner for good. The album comes to a close with a smart cover of Jesse Winchester’s “Mississippi You’re on My Mind.”

Various well-meaning reviewers have equated Bigger to Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Gillian Welch, among others, with the Welch comparison being the only one of that bunch to resonate with me. There’s a rural feel to the set, if that makes sense, with rolling fields almost audible throughout the album, which was produced by Mark Edgar Stuart and features guitarist Will Sexton, drummer Danny Banks, bluegrass vets Eric Lewis and Andy Ratliff, and cellist Jana Meisner, plus her brother Wyly on piano.

It’s a stirring album well worth many plays. Give it a go.

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