Acclaimed Nashville singer-songwriter, Mary Bragg is incontestable and over the naysayers. Her fourth studio album, Violets As Camouflage, released from Tone Tree Music, is as candid as it is brazen. Bragg revels in her emotional intensity as Violets As Camouflage auspiciously finds empowerment within vulnerability.
The album reveals the ubiquity of the inauthenticity eschewing self-worth and obscuring an individual’s true nature. In “I Thought You Were Somebody Else”, Bragg addresses the identification of a mistake requiring reparation. She laments, “I went and made a fool of myself / Sorry / I thought you were somebody else.” But according to Bragg, accountability is necessary to rebuild trust. Yet, here she is relearning to trust herself. A sparse and languid song, the limited instrumentation renders the image of Bragg alone, ruminating. The song opens with “Hello there / How are you”, casting the lyrics as her inner consciousness. Her thoughts deconstruct the past and analyze her delusion. Within this dialogue, Bragg reflects on disingenuousness and the emotional guises eroding authenticity. Without question, this is the root reference for the album’s title. A violet’s prettiness will distract and blind the flaws. And for Bragg, unearthing those flaws can be painful but perpetually rewarding.
As such, Bragg believes in an individual’s capacity to determine their agency. “Fight”, in particular, is a summons for the courage to “Make the choice / To trust the words.” She spotlights perseverance when her voice ascends on the lyrics “I want to try”. Relying on moxie and committing to steadfastness are essential for Bragg. Even if it turns out badly, as demarcated in “Fool”. The juxtaposition of “Fight” and “Fool” suggests confronting trepidation will develop courage, never before. Bragg attests to recognizing perseverance and fortitude despite calamity.
Bragg finds fault in playing it safe and sees taking risks as advantageous. In “The Right Track“, she is adamant about honoring successes, even the smallest ones. She reminds, “It’s gonna feel like you’re a little lost / Before you find it… Crawling / Stalling / Coming in last.” Bragg’s illustrates negativity’s imprint on thwarting forward progression. As for many, the path is only clear in retrospect while fixation on failure is unsound. Unquestionably, this is as much an admonition to herself as to her audience.
Accepting optimism is central to Violets As Camouflage. In “Fixed“, Bragg dismantles skewed self-perceptions. She considers how children, especially young girls, are conditioned to idealized superficiality and unhealthy body images. Bragg exhibits the social messages controlling weight, affirming beauty standards, and undermining self-confidence. In an interview with PopMatters’ Michael Bialis, Bragg recalls the anxiety created by social pressures: “that’s the first memory I have of feeling overweight, not pretty, and judged for my appearance; I was eight years old.” Bragg decries “Starting early / They’ll see another kid on roller skates / They’ll see another mannequin they can decorate.” A clear narrative parallel between her life and art. Yet Bragg turns the track to become an affirmation of identity. She tells those wallowing in the toxic din, “You can make your own light shine / Beautiful star / Just as you are.” Her reminder to “Skip the fairy tale / You don’t need to be fixed” is a moving plea to reject insecurity and embrace self-worth.
Bragg’s wistful country energy radiates throughout Violets As Camouflage. Her twang extenuates the singular steely guitar in “Faint of Heart”. The jaunty instrumentation underscoring Bragg’s rich vocals in “Trouble Me Anytime” draw similarities to Patsy Cline. Much as classic country exploited sexually ambiguous lyrics, Bragg is sly when she skirts double-entendre and asks, “Trust me, honey, it will be just fine / If you make a little trouble with me.” Finally, the full-band on “Runaway Town” conjures the honky-tonks while pushing toward big-box country without selling out.
In the press release for Violets As Camouflage, Bragg mentions she grew up in Georgia, “where it’s not super common to come right out and say what you feel or talk openly about your intimate emotional experiences”. Yet, her honesty and openness are the album’s heart. In a way, Bragg’s earnestness on Violets As Camouflage is radical in its delivery of strength and empowerment.