Lucy Dacus had an unfair advantage in getting our attention this year: Her debut album, No Burden, came out twice, first on Richmond’s tiny EggHunt Records in February, then on the venerable Matador in September. Recorded in one day in Nashville with a band that had just learned the songs, No Burden is not only a surprisingly assured album from a 21-year-old newcomer; it’s MAGNET’s pick for the best album of 2016. At her most placid, as on the solo-acoustic “Trust,” Dacus can sound as introspective and thoughtful as Laura Marling. But when she and her band hit a bluesy groove on, say, “Troublemaker, Doppelganger,” she exudes the cool power of the Heartless Bastards’ Erika Wennerstrom. Mostly, she sings confidently about insecurities and turns confessions into proclamations in insightful songs that gradually accrue in churning power. “I don’t want to be funny anymore/Lately, I’ve been feeling like the odd man out/I hurt my friends saying things I don’t mean out loud,” she sings, sounding weary until she locks in sync to the insistent guitars. “You got yourself a bunch of bad habits/Not hard to see that love is a weakness/Seems to me the way you understand it/Is that you’re never going to make it happen,” she sings on the swaggering, Hunter S. Thompson-quoting highlight “Strange Torpedo.” “Without you, I am surely the last of my kind,” she sings on both “Dream State” and “Familiar Place.” No Burden, however, is the first of its kind, and here’s hoping for many more.
—Steve Klinge; photo by Gene Smirnov