Every poet needs a muse, that beloved ‘other’ who inspires awe and fear, love and lust. Luminous and of course unobtainable, the muse takes the dreamer as author to another realm, forever drawn to what is ultimately a beacon for creativity. For the hopelessly introspective Lael Neale, her signal light comes from within, as her unobtainable love is a knowledge of the self.
Blonde, blue-eyed, and seemingly frail if judging by her frame, one might use the word timid if seeking a book-cover adjective to describe her. Upon hearing her music, however, the active listener experiences anything but timidity, as a self-assured if not courageous honesty pours out in Lael’s lyrics. The title of her debut studio album makes an equally bold declaration – I’ll Be Your Man, the last thing that one would expect from the angelic face on the album cover, which is the antithesis of masculinity.
Raised on a 2,200 acre farm in the pastoral hills of Jefferson and Madison’s Virginia, much of Lael’s youth was spent building forts and riding horses, with plenty of space for time alone. Fast forwarding to her current home of Los Angeles, one imagines Lael as a fawn walking through rush-hour traffic. Yet the city of four million people is where she chooses to pen her lyrics, not in the solitude and idyllic pastures of her youth, but embroiled in the energy of the masses.
Categorically speaking, Lael Neale is a confessional poet, with a prose that is both casual and colloquial, and like Sylvia Plath before her, Lael uses her verse as an attempt to catalogue despair. I’ll Be Your Man walks the listener though Lael’s search for her essence, her center – her raison d’être, if you will. Her’s is a story told for generations, one of hopelessly romantic motives, experienced in arms-length relationships that will never be. Yet listening to the recurring theme makes it clear that Lael is seeking out this feeling again and again, as method, mind you, not as madness. In Because It’s Broken Me, we hear her declare “I make love to break love, because it’s broken me” – not for the purpose of self-imposed pain, but to experience the depth of the feeling itself, heartache used as a means to understanding her own vital force.
The opening track White Daisy, Lace Gloves tells us that this pain is not a recent occurrence, as Lael sings “I lost the pen, I lost the dress, I lost the fight. I’ve been learning how to lose my whole life”. It’s clear that she embraces this process. On Sleep To Remember, Lael tell us that she seeks out this feeling again and again, even in her dreams – “I sleep to remember who I was trying to forget”. She follows up on Pale light of the Sun with her acceptance of self-imposed exile – “the friends I had don’t come around. I don’t need them anyhow, I’ve got me to let me down”. Ultimately, the little girl on the farm is in a different place now, a place she takes us to on Black & White, as she paints what is the backdrop for much of the album – “I used to live life in color, until I drowned in the blue”.
But darkness ultimately interchanges with light. On Dead Bird, we hear that “it’s too late, it’s a sad fate, black as a funeral line”. Yet on I’ll Be Your Man in the Morning, the album’s title track, Lael shows that through it all the hopeless romantic charts her course; “if you were drowning I’d wade into your bed, I’ll be your man in the morning”.
I’ll Be Your Man is ultimately a journey – Lael’s journey, and though oftentimes melancholic, it is anything but a pit of hopeless desperation. Her live performances show the audience that this pretty apparition on stage has the inner strength to experience life at it’s essence, and the courage to share that experience with the world. Lael Neale has the voice of a woman, but the power of her words will convince you that she may just be your man.