“Nobody’s gonna save you. Nobody’s gonna make the way for you. Nobody thinks it matters what they say,” Canadian singer/songwriter Lynne Hanson sings in the title track off her new album, Just Words, knowing full well that songs can actually do all of those things… and have, for her. From the jazz and bluegrass of her formative years to the iconic songwriters of her adulthood, music has been Hanson’s way of walking through the world and working through her emotions.
“I feel one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given as a songwriter is that I have a place I can put my thoughts and emotions — positive or painful,” she says. “As much as I love a happy, uplifting song, I truly feel that it’s the painful experiences that tend to produce really great art. Pain strips you of all pretense and sense of form, and leaves you with just the raw truth of pure expression in order to free yourself from the burden of carrying it.”
So, yeah, Just Words includes a lot of sad songs. That’s what happens when an artist lives their life and tells their truth as a “heartbreak poet.” Still, this isn’t just another break-up album. Hanson’s vision is broader and deeper than that, as she peers into bullying in “Just Words,” acceptance on “Clean Slate,” forgiveness on “Higher Ground,” and fate in “Such a Random Thing.” An award-winning songwriter who has toured around the world, Hanson recognizes that we’re all complex beings capable of living dichotomies, but heading for the high road and working toward forgiveness — of ourselves and others — are keys.
“I expect a lot from myself and the people around me,” she confesses, adding, “At the same time, I desperately want the world I live in to be kinder and more accepting of my own strengths and flaws. So I think, ultimately, my own desire to be a more balanced person, to try to be a little more understanding of where people might be coming from, and consider that I might not actually know best before I jump to any conclusions, makes its way into some of my lyrics, as these are all concepts that I’m wrestling with more and more.”
One of the very personal concepts that Hanson has wrestled with lies at the heart of the album, in “Long Way Home.” With eight years of sobriety under her belt, walking home from a pub or a party, alone with her doubts and demons, is a story the Ottawa native knows all too well. “I got sad songs on my mind, the broke-down heartbreak kind,” she sings in the tune tucked neatly between a bunch of those very same heartbreakers.
“I really think it’s impossible to get through this life without having your heart broken at least once,” she says. “If you really jump in with both feet and take a chance by giving your heart over completely to another person, there’s a very real chance they might disappoint you. But with high risk comes high reward.”
The risks are made that much greater when we go into a relationship not really seeing the other person or, even worse, hoping to change them. Hanson confesses to being guilty on both charges, as documented in “True Blue Moon,” “Hemingway’s Songbird,” and elsewhere. “The desire for another to act differently is a pretty common source of disappointment for a lot of people,” she offers. “I think I’ve heard it referred to as the ‘tyranny of expectation.’”
She continues, “At my core, I am very much a romantic because I still have a lot of faith that there is someone out there that is a perfect match for each and every one of us. A person that will bring out the best in us, and love us for who we are, and not who they’d wish we could be.”
Sometimes, though, the person who seems like a perfect match just… isn’t. In “Hearts Fade,” Hanson details the disappointment of realizing that the love is not equal and letting it go. “The grown up thing to do is to walk away from the unhealthy relationship,” she says. “But knowing you’re doing the right thing doesn’t make it any easier or make it hurt any less. It’s the process of letting go when it’s time, but knowing that you’ll always love that person, at least in some capacity, until the end of your days.”
Her seventh studio album since 2006, Just Words marks something of an artistic departure for Hanson, who purposely tapped producer Jim Bryson to push and pull her outside her comfort zone. Contoured and textured, the result is a more muscular sound than on efforts past, more Steve Earle than Gillian Welch.
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