Everyone loves a good story of a musician blurring boundaries to jump into a different genre in an evolution of their craft, and landing gracefully with purpose and poise. Reading Zale’s bio gave me a niggling feeling that the Atlanta-based singer/songwriter might have entered the blues and rock scene after an artful leap from her classical roots. Zale independently released her debut solo album, Fortress, in 2015 and she has been blowing up stages ever since.
The album begins with “Onyx,” bursting into the room and striding forth with deliberate ease and an air of soul. The vocals belie those of a woman wiser than her years, smooth and flowing, like some sort of illicit concoction of all those things that, when consumed in the absence of temperance, give us instant gratification but long term health effects. With range and control, Zale instantly establishes her reputation as a strong singer who knows what’s up. A guitar solo smooths down the hairs on the listener’s neck, just so Zale can open her mouth and make them stand back up again.
After that powerful beginning, “Cari” flips the album into a playful headstand. The song tells the girl meets boy, girl likes boy, etc. story, serving to communicate that despite her superhuman vocal abilities, Zale is a human, just like you. Zale’s songwriting skills are on display front and center in “23,” a summary of her understanding of Life at that age. Zale does vocal cartwheels while the band plays on, with the fun dialed back from “Cari,” but that vocal power creeps back in.
Hark, is that a reggae bass line? A song made intimate by the licentious relationship of drum and bass, ”Fortune & Fame” is the proverbial [relative] newcomer’s longing for an explosion of success (whatever that means) to interrupt the monotony of hard work and getting by. In the lyrics, Zale focuses on anywhere but where she finds herself at the moment. The places she will go, the reactions she will get from the crowds, everything that will happen in an imaginary (or not-so-imaginary) future. She is determined to do what she’s doing until she gets the accolades she expects will arrive.
“Open up Your Eyes” simmers quietly in ombré. Zale applies her vocals delicately but pointedly, like the chaos of raindrops meeting panes of glass. If someone ever manages to sculpt the glorious volumes of Zale’s vocal tract into a flower vase, it would make a fine piece of art. The song is delivered in a way that conveys a disillusionment tempered with a flickering optimism.
Zale pulls on her sneakers and gets boogieing with “Boyfriend,” a playful rejection song. “Can’t be my boyfriend / I don’t like you that much… Can’t be my boyfriend / I already got more than enough” is blunt and would be blistering, were it not delivered in such a good-natured way. This track oozes female empowerment, personal responsibility, and fun. What a combination! With moments reminiscent of Nancy Sinatra’s song explaining the purpose of her footwear, “Boyfriend” magically elicits PG-13 dancing and a disarming way of interacting with others of more rapacious attitudes.
Upon hearing the vocals of “Too Much Too Soon,” I wanted to crawl into them and take them, soaring, into the stratosphere. Zale’s ability to turn the air into gold is astounding. The lyrics are profoundly introspective, like making fudge without a thermometer. Heavy stuff.
In “Take It from Me” Zale lightens up a bit, while playing with the guitar like a Japanese woodworker plays with gravity and weight to glue his joint together. “Maze” ends the album with timeless lyrics of self-discovery. The song focuses on feeling lost, but the vocal power Zale wields as the song progresses speaks to the persistent integrity of the human spirit. Mazes may, at times, seem interminable, but they always have an end.
Zale is hitting up venues in Georgia and South Carolina through March, you can see her tour schedule at ZaleMusic.com. If her record can astound me, I want to see what she can do live. If you haven’t already, add Fortress to your Music Library. This album runs the gamut from entertaining to evoking thought to giving you something to dance to. I hope to see you at one of her shows. Rock on.
Listen to Fortress
ZALE’s The making of “Fortress”