THAO & THE GET DOWN STAY DOWN headline Lee’s Palace on March 27. See listings. Rating: NNNN
Singer/songwriter Thao Nguyen has spent most of her 20s on the road thanks to her work with her band, the Get Down Stay Down, and a duet LP with Mirah. Before recording her fourth album, she took time away from music and settled in San Francisco, where she's stabilized her personal life and advocated for incarcerated women in the California prison system.
Those experiences furnished Nguyen with a new set of themes: justice, truth and especially community. But We The Common isn't overtly political. As she did on earlier releases, she finds universality in specific, nuanced human stories. The title track, for instance, examines personal freedom in the face of an outwardly determined fate through a character study of Valerie Bolden, a mother sentenced to life.
Musically, the album marries Nguyen's raw, soulful vocals to an expanded arsenal of banjo, bluesy distorted guitar riffs, vibraphone and Dixieland horns. But even when duetting with harp sprite Joanna Newson, she avoids the trappings of twee.
Top track: City