Ada Lea
one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden

Next Door Records • 2021

Ada Lea infuses her vignettes of city life with a sense of reflection that makes the collection feel as if she’s writing a memoir at the moment these stories occur.

There’s a well-known quote from The Wizard of Oz that keeps running through my head when I listen to the second full-length from Montreal’s Ada Lea: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again,” says Dorothy Gale upon her return from Oz, “I won’t look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” Though the songs on Lea’s album one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden are more about wandering through her hometown than wandering away from it, Lea infuses her vignettes of city life with a sense of reflection that makes the collection feel as if she’s writing a memoir at the moment these stories occur. “there is something to be said / about growing up in the neighbourhood / and then staying in that neighbourhood,” she sings on “backyard,” “even when you finally could leave and explore other places near or far / but you chose to stay in the place you grew up.”

Throughout one hand on the steering wheel… , Lea drops lyrics that would make incredible opening lines to a novel. Kicking the album off with “the year started at the back of a train of thought,” she eloquently lets “damn” flow into stream-of-consciousness recollections where “everyone drunk off of their faces, just singing our praises / wanting in on the magic.” “damn” is a song of quiet rage, an interior monologue that crescendos with a string of exhausting curses in chorus. Lea’s singing is expressive and emotive as if she’s imagining herself pulling away from the proceedings around her, speaking directly through the fourth wall at an audience observing her frustrations. It’s a device that serves one hand on the steering wheel… well. 

Underscored by arrangements that rise to meet Lea’s weighty words without overpowering them, songs like “partner” amass their power from Lea’s vulnerable narratives, a combination of lo-fi effects and hi-fi details in the music, and the restrained, tension-filled playing of Lea, drummer Tasy Hudson, and guitarist Harrison Whitford. And although its wholly unnecessary given just how well these songs and one hand on the steering wheel…  as a whole work in conveying a sense of place, time, and feeling, Lea elegantly lays out each song on a map of Montreal that further reinforces the notion that there’s something to be said about living in the place you grew up. one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden pins Ada Lea to the place where she is, which is also where she needs to be.

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