Daily Dose: Leyla McCalla, "Heavy As Lead"

From her new album The Capitalist Blues, out today, Jan. 25

Music Features Leyla McCalla
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Daily Dose: Leyla McCalla, "Heavy As Lead"

Daily Dose is your daily source for the song you absolutely, positively need to hear every day. Curated by the Paste Music Team.

In 2019, protest music will take many shapes. Resistance, as it has historically, will emerge in the form of both rap songs and folk ditties, pop jams and dance tracks. On her new album, The Capitalist Blues (out today, Jan. 25), the talented cellist/multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Leyla McCalla supplies a level-headed political push in a beautiful marriage of roots music to jazz. She manages to dole out social criticism while simultaneously sharing deeply personal stories, many of which tie into her Haitian heritage. The New Orleans-based artist has spent many years—and two albums—tied to her cello, but on The Capitalist Blues, she works in more worldly sounds, favoring electric guitar and banjo as well as Caribbean-inspired rhythms and jazz styles. From critiquing economical corruption on the sassy, swaying “Money Is King” to accepting things she can’t change on the nostalgic ballad “Ain’t No Use,” McCalla pens moving stories and delivers sweeping melodies throughout The Capitalist Blues’ 11 songs.

One song is especially personal. “Heavy As Lead,” a low-hanging soul song that highlights McCalla’s beautiful alto, is warm and, with its rustling organ solo and soft beats, maybe even soothing. But if you dig deeper into the lyrics, you’ll realize it’s about something serious. McCalla wrote the six-minute song about lead poisoning—and her own experience when she discovered her daughter was affected. There’s a feeling of desperation that hangs over the track, that unavoidable panic when someone you love is in trouble and there’s only so much you can do. “Don’t tell me everything’s gonna be alright,” McCalla sings. “Heavy as lead.”

Here’s what McCalla said about the track:

Lead intoxication is a systemic environmental health issue that affects children and families all over the United States. I wrote this song after discovering that my own child had high levels of lead in her blood. I’m thankful that my husband and I had the resources to tackle and rectify this issue, but I sing these words thinking of all the families from New Orleans, LA to Flint, Michigan grappling with a system that takes no responsibility for solving this environmental health crisis. I am so thankful for Topsy Chapman and her daughters for singing with me on this song. Thank you for listening.

The Capitalist Blues follows 2016’s A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey, on which McCalla sung in English, French and Haitian Creole. This year, she’ll release more music as part of the folk supergroup Our Native Daughters, made up of McCalla and her former Carolina Chocolate Drops bandmate Rhiannon Giddens, plus fellow roots players Amythyst Kiah and Allison Russell. Their debut album, Songs of our Native Daughters, arrives Feb. 22 on Smithsonian Folkways.

Again, you can listen to Leyla McCalla’s “Heavy As Lead” below. Further down, watch her recent Paste Studio session, in which she also plays the track. The Capitalist Blues is out now, and you can listen on Spotify or your streamer of choice.