When singer-songwriter Angel Snow was in third grade, her teacher, Miss Littleton, asked the class to write a poem about their favorite time of year. Here’s what Snow wrote:
Spring is beautiful.
Spring is swimming.
Flowers blooming and danger looming.
In its echoes of Edgar Allen Poe, that simple verse—with its darkly lyrical imagery—augured the artful surprise in songs to come. Miss Littleton loved it. “It was a defining moment,” Snow said. From that moment she knew what she wanted to do.
Snow, who will perform on Friday at Barking Legs, is a natural storyteller. Her song, “Lie Awake,” for instance, a story about a woman trapped in an abusive relationship, is a 16-line film noir plot. “I was drawing on the experiences of women who’ve been in abusive relationships,” she told me. “This is someone who’s trying to leave the situation she’s in and she lies awake at night trying to figure out a way.”
I want to run away, don’t come out lookin’ round…
He’s right behind me, please God I can’t be found…
The city tells me not to go till dawn
And if he wakes, that’s when my heart breaks
And I’m as good as gone.
Snow wrote the song—featured on Alison Krauss’ Grammy-winning album, Paper Airplane—in a single afternoon after hearing the melody (written by Alison’s brother, Viktor Krauss).
When Snow met Alison, she’d been living in Nashville for several years, working to make her mark as a songwriter with little success. She was beginning to think that perhaps she should teach English full-time (she’d been working as a substitute teacher to pay the bills) or maybe join the Peace Corps.
Krauss, meanwhile, had just finished her tour with Robert Plant and was thinking about making a record with her own band, Union Station. It had been a number of years since they’d recorded and she was looking for new material. Krauss has a reputation for finding unsung writers and bringing them into the spotlight. When Snow told her she was a songwriter, she asked for a copy of her CD. Snow, who’s not much of a self-promoter—“I’m terrible at networking,” she said—nevertheless knew enough to carry copies of the CD the way others might carry a business card. She gave Krauss a copy, and the next day Krauss called Snow to tell her she wanted to record some of her songs. Krauss ended up recording three of them for Paper Airplane.
Soon afterwards, Krauss introduced Snow to her brother Viktor, a gifted musician and writer who’d been looking for a lyricist. “It was like divine intervention when we all met,” Snow said. “Alison said that, too, because she needed some new songs for her record and felt like this was an inspiration for her. She built the record around ‘Lie Awake.’”
The first time I met Snow, she was back in town visiting her family in Chickamauga where she grew up. It was a few years ago, and although she had every reason to celebrate, she seemed oddly deflated. She’d just won the highly competitive, bi-annual “Songwriters Shootout” at Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta. The club invites winners from each of its weekly Monday open mic nights to compete for a chance to spend a day in a recording studio. The club’s reputation, more than the prize, draws songwriters from all over the country. It was a few months after the contest, and Snow still seemed to have trouble believing she’d won.
How she handled that competition says a lot about both her character and approach to her career. She began with a couple of older tunes she considered among her best. As each of the 24 competitors gradually left the stage, she began to feel she had a shot at winning. But rather than playing another proven favorite, she chose a new song called “Holiday” about the death of her beloved aunt, her mother’s twin sister, who had died suddenly of cancer. It’s not one of her most memorable songs. It doesn’t have a conventional hook, chorus or melody. But it’s an intensely heartfelt snapshot of a painful period of her life when she felt unmoored and adrift. As always for her connecting with the audience—which included some of her family members—was more important than winning the contest. Apparently the audience responded to the song’s naked honesty and Snow’s authenticity.
Meeting and working with the Krauss siblings reinforced Snow’s belief in herself. As she puts it, “There’s no Plan B, this is what I was meant to do.”
But it’s her passion expressed in her songs and her performances that has brought her to the point that now (for the first time in seven years) she’s “actually able to pay my bills with music.” It’s a rare achievement for any singer-songwriter these days—but for her it’s just the beginning.
with Woodford Sessions
8 p.m. • $12/$15
Friday, Nov. 30 Barking Legs Theater
1307 Dodds Ave. (423) 624-5347