Sometimes the process of mining for melody in words eviscerates the raconteur, gutting them like a tornado through a trailer park. Sometimes, “the truth” is a revival of shit rather forgotten, igniting a coward’s desire to look away. With Meltdown Rodeo, Kym Register foregoes such consolatory diversions for visceral scrutiny and unbroken stares. The result is a body of tunes that forages the American south, dislodging its ducked bullets from pearly white sand.
According to Register, “Scottsboro,” the album’s opener, was years in the making. It recounts the little known history of “The Scottsboro Boys,” nine Black men falsely accused of raping a pair of white women in hyperpyrexic 1930’s Alabama. One accuser eventually admitted the allegations were bullshit, but, for Black men in the Jim Crow south (as it is now), any assumptions of guilt are soon proven a permanent brand. Register wails against America’s foremost refrains – jury and peers and whole truths – in lyrics hefty with reconciliation and metaphor. “A blind eye, A blind eye is all justice knows/ Of the truth of what happened in Scottsboro/ Come on now, this story’s not that old.” Contrary to Register’s demand for account, the American south knows no shame.
Whether grappling with the constrictions of gender expressions on dating apps (“How Do You See Me”), evoking the semi-autobiographical loneliness of Dorothy Allison’s Carolina bastards (“Maureen”), or daring white folks to “get right with their history of compliance in racial capitalism” (“Loamlands”), Register affirms that songwriting, at its best, is a gross but necessary confrontation.
Ultimately Register and Meltdown Rodeo (both the newly named band and album) have achieved in eleven songs something the south has only half-heartedly attempted – undoing generational curses by retiring “bless your heart” lip service.
Damn if we can’t all benefit from a little melting down.