Wow. I just visited her myspace and I'm blown away. On this latest album Chaotic Resolve, she wrote a song about self-harm after a fan wrote to her about it... the song, 'Cut,' is very honest, very raw. There's an interview she did on CNN about it, and the video for the song itself is on her myspace, but I can't for the life of me get them to embed properly. They might be triggering, so be cautious if you're sensitive at the moment. It made me weep, thinking of those I love who have self-harmed. One of the lines in the song is "I am not alone" and you're not, really not, I am always willing to be here for you. ♥
A few hours before playing what she thought would be her last gig, Plumb was handed a note that changed her life.
She was making an afternoon appearance at a local record store. Fans were lining up for autographs, or to shove urgent notes at the young singer with curly jet-black hair, riveting stage presence, and spellbinding ways with a song.
Her first two albums each sold more than 100,000 copies with minimal promotion -- in fact, the second was released only days before she broke her ties with the label.
Despite all that, despite the pens and CDs waving in her face and the familiar mantra that "you rock!" shouted in her direction, Plumb stood at a crossroads. Even as she smiled and signed, she was thinking that maybe she couldn't do this anymore. Hassles with her label, the grind of the artist's life, thoughts of hanging it up as a performer and concentrating purely on songwriting and production... doubts had been nagging at her for some time, and that day in Fresno she was thinking that maybe this was the end of that road.
As her mind drifed to these thoughts, Breanna stepped up and introduced herself.
"She said to me, 'I know you're really busy, but I wanted to give you this note. A song you wrote has meant a lot to me," Plumb recalls. "I didn't read it until later, in the car ride back to soundcheck for the show. It shook my world. I was drenched in humility."
The letter was about "Damaged," a song Plumb had written and recorded about a girl coping with being molested as a child. The message from Breanna was simple: "Whatever you do, I just want you to never forget that you have helped change someone's life."
"Sitting in the back seat, I felt a knot in my throat," Plumb continues. "Here I am, contemplating not even doing this anymore because of the bitter taste in my mouth regarding the business. But it hit me that this wasn't about me. I'd been given a gift to communicate, to encourage and inspire. It wasn't up to me to say, 'I don't want to do this anymore.'"
With that moment tucked safely in her mind, a rejuvenated Plumb presents her Curb debut, Beautiful Lumps of Coal. Produced by Plumb and Jay Joyce (Patti Griffin, Atticus Fault, Rubyhorse, Lisa Germano), it's a vivid, vibrant explosion of music. The sound embraces raw, gutsy rock, exuberant pop, sweeping string-blown ballads -- a rainbow of styles, unified by Plumb's triple-barreled gifts as a singer, songwriter and now producer.
First, the voice. It's... well, it's a wonder. No one in music today tops her ability to draw listeners into an intimate, whispering intro and then send them soaring through a storm of escalating passion, as on "Boys Don't Cry." Yeah, we know, that's saying a lot. But that's also just the beginning. Listen to her caress the lyric on "Go," a song of tender farewell, or announce her escape from a more suffocating relationship in the resonant, declamatory choruses of "Free." This is a voice to reckon with, by anyone's measure.
It's also perfectly matched to the material. Messages ride strong currents of melody on each track, some of them urgently emotional ("Hold Me"), others shining like beacons of hope for listeners who live in fear and darkness. ("If you've been there, you know/if you're still there, hang on," she urges on "Nice, Naive and Beautiful.") Every one of these tracks has that combination of musical and topical immediacy that identifies those artists who have the pulse of their fans beneath their fingers.
Plumb has been there. She responded, as a fan as well as an artist, to Patti Griffin, Poe, Suzanne Vega, Alanis Morissette...to name a few. To artists who nourished their work through the bonds they built to their audiences. Music as connection, set to the rhythms of life's rewards and challenges -- this, from the beginning, was a model for the young woman who would become Plumb and step at last into the spotlight on her own.
She was born in Indianapolis, raised in Atlanta. [yay! ♥] From the start Plumb was drawn to music, but in those early years she never dreamed she would follow this muse all the way into business.
In fact, where the typical superstar biography describes years of doggedly chasing success, Plumb's story is more about receiving gifts -- gifts of talent and opportunity that seemed to come unbidden toward her. Never once did she pursue.
After graduating from high school, while planning to major in special education at college, Plumb took a few gigs as a backup singer in Atlanta. At first, this seemed just like something fun to do until real life would intervene. But when she was invited to start singing backup full time with various acts, she found herself on the road for a few years. This led to session work, and that prompted her to finally set her college plans aside and move up to Nashville.
Once again opportunity presented itself, when Plumb was offered a record deal solely based on someone hearing her backup singing. She was all of twenty years old. "This was certainly not something I planned out," she laughs. "I was happy just doing other people's stuff, so I didn't really have a style of my own. And as a backup singer I would gladly stand behind the star, go ooh and ah, and do the little arm wave. All of a sudden I'm wanted up front, and responsible for communicating everything. Very excited...and very scared at the same time."
They also wanted her to write original material -- something she had never imagined doing. "I was frustrated that the label didn't just find a bunch of amazing songs for me," she says. "I thought to myself, do they think I have potential, or do they want off the hook in finding songs for me? Whichever it was, it doesn't matter now, because I'm grateful that they forced me to write -- because I grow as a songwriter every day. They encouraged a gift to immerge, one I was unaware that existed."
Working with Matt Bronleewe, her neighbor, friend and a fledgling producer, she recorded her first album, Plumb, in 1997, then left for an extended tour. The album built an underground following with its modern rock sound and upbeat lyrics. The momentum built with her sophomore release, candycoatedwaterdrops, in 1999. On disc and in concert, Plumb's performances bore fruit: As one reviewer noted, "If you enjoyed the Cranberries, No Doubt, or Texas, then you will love Plumb to bits."
With Beautiful Lumps of Coal the creative fire burns brighter, and the light of Plumb casts further into the world than ever. Much of this has to do with the freedom she's earned following her break from her previous label. A number of majors chased her, but Curb won her affiliation from the get-go.
"I said to each interested label, 'If I sign again, I want the moon,'" she says. "But the first draft of the contract that Curb sent was more than I had considered asking for. Another opportunity had fallen into my lap... so, again, here I am."
And where is here? On Beautiful Lumps of Coal it's closer to her own heart than she's ever been. "On my first two records I was getting pretty good at writing about things I knew about or people I knew," she says. "But I wasn't on an intimate level with myself. It wasn't that I was afraid of being vulnerable; it was just an avenue I hadn't explored. I just didn't know how to write about me. Now I've grown not only as a writer, but as a person as well."
In fact, Plumb insists that the songs on Beautiful Lumps tell a single story of change -- of her own recent transformations, from being alone to being married, from one label to another, from older relationships to the realization that her needs for friendship have evolved in unexpected ways. "These changes are all amazingly positive. But change of any kind involves loss," she says. "And any kind of loss involves grief. Even when I got married, for four days after I was home from my honeymoon, I was a little depressed -- not because I wasn't crazy in love with my husband, but because all of a sudden we were living in the same house, brushing our teeth at the same time. I was ecstatic about being married, but even then there was a bit of grieving because I had lost something too. My old life."
"And through these changes and hardships, I've grown. I'm in a better place now, with my label, with better management, a great marriage, stronger friendships, and an unexpected education all at the same time. Those hardships, those 'lumps of coal' I was dealt, I was able to see turn into beautiful diamonds. Something I can inspire others to do with their bitter wedges."
This inspiration breathes life into this remarkable album. And while Plumb is quick to honor God as her source, it must also be said that some of that intervention was passed to her through the note that a fan slipped into her hand some two years ago in Fresno.
But there was more than the note in that gift from Breanna. "She had put her letter inside a card," Plumb remembers. "When I finished the letter and closed the card, I saw that there was a picture on the front of a cattail in a pond, with a caption that read, 'The tender reed, bent to the force of the wind, soon stood upright once the storm had passed.'"
With Beautiful Lumps of Coal Plumb stands unbowed, her music resonant and alive. No storm can take her down; she is here to stay.