When Lily Talmers sings, “Is there anybody listening to me? / From the middle of America you scream out to the ocean, it gets lost,” it’s not just a plea by a 23-year-old Ann Arbor singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist who wants to be heard. “Middle of America“ also addresses a potential lie to “people at the border,“ a father’s decimated pension fund, and a lost Lady Liberty.
The song is neither didactic nor overly sentimental, though it is pointed and nostalgic. It’s both specific in its details and nebulous in its meaning, a feeling that runs throughout Talmers’ excellent debut album, Remember Me as Holy.
Talmers’ songs may evoke those of Phoebe Bridgers at times in that they are mostly quiet and always literate — the latter is not a surprise since the Birmingham native is a recent University of Michigan grad with a degree in comparative literature with minors in philosophy and Portuguese. But there’s a stronger twang in Talmers’ tunes, rooted more in Americana and ’60s folk than indie-rock.
“Probably my two biggest contemporary influences are Madison Cunningham and Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief. Those two really are innovators as guitarists, vocalists, and visionaries,” Talmers says, while also mentioning Gillian Welch, Regina Spektor, and Anais Mitchell. “[Cunningham and Lenker] stretch my notions of what is possible to do within a song. It was an enormous gift that Madison’s producer, Tyler Chester, played piano and organ on the first track on the record.”
That song, “Maybe It’s Madness,” features some Leonard Cohen-like phrasing in the verses when there aren’t always true rhymes, and the lyrics sometimes overflow the musical measure.
But unlike Cohen — who for all his skills as a songwriter was a distinctive but not great singer — Talmers’ expressive voice soars through melodies with controlled confidence, never resorting to melodrama. In that respect, Talmers is closer to the Joni Mitchell school of singing, where she can use her strong voice as an instrument, not just as a delivery device for poetic lyrics, though hers are that, too.
“Joni is someone I find new reasons to admire each day,” Talmers says. “There’s really no place she’s unwilling to go. I’m also a huge fan of Judee Sill, mostly for our mutual obsession with all things biblical.”
Religious imagery pops up on Remember Me as Holy, but this is not Hillsong music; the references are used to explore common situations and philosophical questions.
“I’m definitely compelled by biblical narrative, and it does bleed into my writing in ways that often surprise and even inspire me,” Talmers says. “I do take religious tradition and faith very seriously, but by this I mean specifically that the questions they prompt me to ask make up some of the central tensions of my life.”
Talmers plays a variety of stringed instruments, from bajo to bouzouki — a three-stringed Greek instrument — but her acoustic guitar dominates the sound of Remember Me as Holy, which is filled with personal details that are crafted so as not to be oversharing, though her family can probably decipher some of them.
“They’re really proud and supportive, but no aspect of me — anger, heartbreak, disappointment, or any of the feelings I breach on the record — is news to them,” Talmers says. “They hear all the complexities behind my songs in the form of me, being myself, through time, all the time. And, may I say, the undistilled version of these songs — that is, my life — is way messier and probably more annoying and less articulate.”
Remember Me as Holy is not only articulate, it’s a pretty stunning collection of reflective and insightful songs about the human condition, especially coming from someone so young.
“I would be lying if I said it’s not anxiety-inducing to be critically honest and detailed through songwriting,” Talmers says. “If the point of a song is to translate what’s inside of me, which I think it is, then I’m kind of willing to pull out all the stops so that the listener can locate what I’m talking about within themselves. … If the rawness of my songs can encourage anyone else to embrace their own vulnerability, even just with themselves, I’m willing to take the hit.”
Lily Talmers’ album Remember Me as Holy can be purchased at bandcamp.com and streamed through various streaming services.