Sometimes “a completely beautiful song can be the greatest way to say fuck you.” This is the way Oxlip sums up the intention of her intriguingly titled third recording, Your Mother Was a Peacock. The songs tell stories of how women have been screwed over since time immemorial, but all ten are couched in lovely melodies and delivered in a lullingly sweet voice. Ten hard punches thrown by a soft velvet glove.
The title song is a prime example of Oxlip’s focus. It is written from the viewpoint of WWI dancer and courtesan Mata Hari. Sentenced to death for espionage, she sits in her prison cell the night before she is to be executed and writes a letter to her daughter: “Your mother was a peacock so soft her feathered hair/too beautiful and tender in a world ruled by men.” Before she dies, she wants to tell her daughter the truth about her life.
Each song has at its heart a woman from history and her mistreatment at the hands of a cruel patriarchal culture. As Oxlip explains, “When I read or hear about an inspiring woman, I just want to write about her—to give her voice. A lot of these women lived (and died) without a voice, and the injustice of it is what I’m singing about. And sometimes it’s easier to tell your story through hearing someone else’s. These songs are victory songs for me, and for the women they were written about. I want to emote something truthful and ultimately healing.”
Oxlip hails from Northern Ireland but currently lives in Vancouver, BC. She not only performs both vocally and instrumentally on the entire album but also composed all ten tracks. Her lyrics have the depth and originality of poetry, and her themes of female identity and survival are both timely and moving—and most of all authentic. When she sings, “I’d rather be hated and labelled as wild / than deny the truth of my innermost child,” we believe her.
The music itself is evocative with the occasional dark undertone—Oxlip’s nod to folk tradition– but a number of the songs (“Daddysaurus” and “Wild Woodbine” in particular) are infused with a “psychedelic” element that lifts them out of the folk realm. This is not surprising given that she has spent time touring with psych/folk rock band The Deep Dark Woods. One critic has described Oxlip’s music as “a sort of interplanetary psychedelic Celtic/Americana crossroads…a cauldron of mysticism and folklorist parables.” Another called her second release Wolves! Cried the Maid “an artistic masterpiece.” Her work has garnered much praise for being “ethereal, haunting and profound,” and her voice has been compared to that of the young Marianne Faithfull.
It is this potent combination of lyrical sophistication, musical virtuosity and purity of voice that sets Oxlip apart. The resonance of her music grows with each listen. We don’t often think of folk albums as kick-ass, but this one is.