Originally from Illinois, Ava Suppelsa now lives in Boston, where she attends the Berklee College of Music – this I read in her bio, which also said she melds a country/pop sound with hints of jazz. Before I listened to her to EP, I was intrigued as to what that would sound like. And here’s what it sounds like: original, sophisticated and strong.
The opening track, ‘He Told Me’, is a love-gone-wrong song that fits into a conventional modern country canon, but it’s a good introduction to Suppelsa’s voice, which has a lovely tone and great range. It’s from track 2, ‘A Lot Like Me’, that things get interesting. This is a wistful song about a childhood home, and Suppelsa manages the sentiment without becoming sentimental. It’s a balance also present in the third track, ‘This Time’.
All four songs on the EP were written by Suppelsa, who doesn’t shy away from emotion in her lyrics, and doesn’t resile from it in her singing either. It might sound obvious to say that country music songs are emotional, yet in a market as big as the USA there must also be some pressure on artists to flatten the emotion so they can appeal to the broadest number of people – certainly that’s what seems to happen in a lot of the bro country that increasingly dominates country radio. But genuine emotion will always connect with a range of people. If the artist is sincere, if the emotion comes from a genuine place, the audience feels it. Suppelsa is clearly authentic but she has also, it seems, worked out how to convey that emotion in a way that enables her to command it rather than succumb to it. This is nowhere more apparent than on the last track, ‘Finish Line’, which is about a father trying to get sober. Suppelsa’s father received treatment for addiction when she was younger, so it’s logical to presume that she’s writing about her own family member. But the song feels universal, and that’s where she understands her role as an artist: to take a story and convey it in the best way possible to the largest number of people.
Suppelsa may still be in college but this is not the work of an undergraduate. Given that she’s already an accomplished songwriter, no doubt there is an album’s worth of songs there somewhere and I will wait impatiently to hear them.