Behind the Lyrics: Bailey James - The Crow
In this new series of ‘Behind the lyrics’ I’ll be taking a closer look at what makes certain songs have the ability to take us deeper than just enjoying the bop! I’ll be looking at top 10 hit country artists, but also other artists where I feel the lyrics are something special, or doing something unique and generally making me say “I wish I’d written that!”.
I’ll come right out with it and say I had not heard of Bailey James until very recently. That was clearly a mistake because she is a powerhouse of soulful gritty vocals, and slamming guitar solos. I wanted to focus these articles on some independent artists too, and Bailey is a great start on that list.
She is definitely one of those artists that has been working hard on an overnight success for a long time. Starting writing at age 11, releasing an EP in her teens as well as moving to Nashville at 16 supported by her parents, so that she could literally knock on the record company doors. Receiving vocal coaching from an operatic teacher added a further dimension with vocal gymnastics tastefully woven into what is now rock / pop / country. Some people compare her style to the band Heart, and she is more than happy about that!
It was her song ‘Finally free’ that brought the wider attention, charting on the US Billboard top 100 country charts. Bailey is also a strong mental health advocate (forming the finallyfree blog and podcast) not long after losing her brother to suicide.
That’s a lot to take on board for anyone; it shows real inner strength, especially as she only turned 20 in the first week of January. Don’t let that put you off your stride if you are reading this as a slightly older aspiring artist still yet to ‘make it’. There are plenty of stories of those older also finding their moment to shine (e.g. Mary Gauthier).
I am going to focus on a more recent song - The Crow, which I discovered thanks to it being one of Route66 Country Music nominations for song of 2022. Bailey has the typical break up songs, but the one thing that caught my attention was being able to access some different topics and use some more interesting imagery.
She says herself of the song The Crow, that it is about her brother.
This song is so punchy, never leaving you waiting for the next section. Short almost two line verses, a big uplifting pre-chorus, and very rocky chorus. Another verse, pre, guitar solo, and after a quick reprise of verse 1 we are done. You are left in no doubt about hitting the play button again. In a brief exchange on social media she also confirmed this song was influenced by Nirvana, and you really hear that as the song builds from the start.
Verse 1 speaks of dreams, nightmares, and not knowing if you are asleep or awake. Moments where dreams can feel too real, and showing that she feels numb, wondering if she is truly awake or not. Through the world ending moments she describes she hears this almost spirit animal / call from her brother.
The chorus sings hopefully that this lost soul is free and can fly ahead and provide almost divine guidance. Go where I can’t go, see what I can’t see. It’s a positive affirmation and a provider of hope for her.
Choosing a crow brings all the connotations of magic, mystery, and a very familiar sight for those living in any country area. Crows seem to do whatever the hell they want, and are often less intimidated by people than other birds. As we dive into verse 2 she fully acknowledges that the bird is like an angel guiding her, and the line:
“Push on life’s wire higher than I ever could dare”
is a beautiful expression and I see it as a personal tribute to her brother and living life to the full.
The second Pre-Chorus continues to affirm this guardian angel's ability to warn of trouble and storms ahead, and where to seek shelter.
After the second chorus, a guitar solo blasts in as an absolute treat we often miss out on these days. This is a rock song now, rather than country, demonstrating some fantastic playing here from Bailey.
I see the Crow itself as her personal muse, and I’m sure it will continue to represent a guiding force in her life and keep the connection alive with her brother.
A reprise of verse 1 acts (like I’ve described before) to ground you back to the beginning, making you question yourself; Are we back in the dream? Did it really all happen?
This song is driven by dreamlike imagery, and that works perfectly for this topic. How else would you explain being guided by a crow!
Songs from dreams is a theme we’ve seen recently too from Taylor Swift with a whole album worth of songs formed from that semi dream state in Midnights. Perhaps this could be a source of songwriting for yourself? Have a think about some of the vivid dreams you’ve had, maybe lucid dreams or even that scary feeling of sleep paralysis.
Happy dreaming, happy writing, and remember to follow whatever is the Crow for you.
Hugh has over 20 years experience as a songwriter and creative collaborator. Personally mentored by Kinks frontman Ray Davies, and a year at the London Songwriting Academy. Find out more here.
A had dream I was walking out from a nightmare
I never fell back asleep some maybe I’m right there
The earth was shaking I was waiting on the sky to fall
In the distance I could hear my spirit call
So fly for me, fly for me, show me where I should go
Spread your wings, spread your wings
Cut through the clouds and leave me high / whole
I can’t do this this on my own
Life is like a broken road
So I followed the crow
Black feathered angel above saved me from the nowhere
Push on life’s wire higher than I ever could dare
You see the storm ahead and warn me when you fly away
Through your eyes I find shelter from the rain
Verse 1 reprise
A had dream I was walking out from a nightmare
I never fell back asleep some maybe i’m right there
Yeah, I’m right there