This all started with Lizzy Grant—back before Lana del Rey’s somehow-transcendent Born to Die managed to convince the vogue among us that trailer park chic was most certainly in, there was this beautiful young girl singing tortured-soul musings out of a doublewide, claiming that hell and salvation could all be found just cruising down Main Street in any blue collar town—simple as that.
Or you can keep going further, all the way back to ’93... while Souls of Mischief were chillin’ to Cobham’s “Heather” on a breakbeat rework, Los Angeleno Hope Sandoval was still singing “Fade Into You” in the dark—later that year, the Mazzy Star single would break Billboard’s top five, and down-on-their-tempo female vocalists had their first blip on the critical radar.
Now then, onto Sundowner. Singer-songwriter Mary Roth’s second record under the HT Heartache moniker falls somewhere between the aforementioned iconics, Lizzy and Hope, the arbitrarily aloof and the withdrawn-by-nature, to create this lasting little piece of gothic Americana that’s well-worthy of note.
As a whole, the album is—for what it’s worth—quite what you could find yourself expecting if someone told you this indie L.A. songstress was strumming on flyover heartstrings to make her name. The aura’s calculated, sure—Gus Black, who has directed a handful of HT Heartache’s promo videos and certainly influenced her presentation, consistently casts the musician in vintage filmic shades—but albeit-artificial VHS clips and hazy black-and-white shots can’t take away from Roth’s haunting voice and mature, reserved delivery on keynote tracks like “Cowboy Poetry” or my personal favorite, “Roam Cold Highway.” The result is a strangely optimistic piece that could, in the end, only be a product of the City of Angels—subtly musing hope over bittersweet riffs, and the premeditated melancholy that has you feeling like you might just be hearing these notes for the first time, like watching the otherwise-untainted Pacific sunset through Hollywood’s tinsel and smog.