Short Stories – True Stories from the American Edge

music review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 09 Aug 2014

The Edge, here, is a more marginal America that isn’t always a winner - made up of ordinary people, fighting or escaping the country’s relentless narrative of capitalism, cheap labour and globalisation. Kiya Heartwood is an acoustic guitarist and singer-songwriter from oddball oasis, Austin, Texas; but she sings tales of underdogs from all over, with a distinctly American, soulful sincerity.

Her opener trots through the story of Man o’War, the 1920s racehorse extraordinaire. Eulogising his impressive strength—he could carry 138 pounds, helpfully translated for British laymen as both 10 stone, and an awful lot for a horse—Heartwood also uses him as a symbol for an America that’s been lost. Poignantly, she sings of stables and fields replaced by cookie-cutter houses in the neverending race to suburban sprawl.

Mother Jones is no less fearsome or loved – a black-clad widow who stirred up workers to strike for fair pay. Heartwood’s husky, wistful voice strengthens to a guttural call to arms for the “dishpan brigade” of women who fended off blackleggers with household weapons. She also stretches to naive, gutsy blues—“I built my house on a burial ground/Ghosts and spirits were all around”—and a softer, subtle memoir of growing up a tomboy in her brother’s shadow.

Heartwood describes herself as shy, but she’s clearly capable of wrestling an audience tens of times this tiny size into foot-stamping, chorus-joining submission. A soulless Edinburgh black box space might not be the best place to cosy up to her distinctive, atmospheric songs, but she’s a seasoned enough performer to light up any room with flickering, folksy warmth.