Hope is powerful.
Hope is affirming.
Hope is sustaining.
Hope is necessary.
As backstories go, the one for Comatose Hope is rather unique and literally life-altering: as a result of gender affirming surgery, Julia Weldon slipped into a coma. Across 11 songs, Weldon chronicles the sensations, feelings, emotions, and experiences of the year she spent recovering from that trauma. The result is a rich, organic, and independently released album bursting at the seams with ebullient energy that’s firmly rooted in the folk and Americana traditions while delivering copious nods toward pop accessibility.
The genius of Comatose Hope comes from how Weldon and producer Drew Gordon were able to cobble together familiar alt-country and alt-folk signifiers into a recognizable whole, while still creating ample space for Weldon’s own ideas and personality to shine. She wields a clear-eyed alto with equal parts grace and strength, though she’s comfortable flipping into falsetto or permitting some dust and dusk into her vocal tone when the song calls for it.
Acoustic instrumentation serves as the foundation of these tunes, whether it’s a guitar, ukulele, or upright piano.
The rhythm section is sublime and understated, providing the base around which the various keyboard and synth sounds can swoop and swirl. The edges of the music are frequently rounded out by small string swells, but they’re introduced to the arrangements only when necessary, instead of feeling like a cheesy and cliched element.
While most classic singer-songwriter types certainly “write what they know,” these tunes are packed with the additional emotional resonance that comes from Weldon knowing that she almost didn’t get to make this album. Also, most records that contend with dense themes like life, death, rebirth, redemption, grace, and forgiveness don’t comes from a place of intimate familiarity with the “what ifs” and “what could have happened” like this one.
These are frank discussions of nearly averted tragedy, broken hearts, and hurting bodies that are simultaneously imbued with hope for the future.
“Kaleidoscope” embraces the initial rush of passion when you first fall in love with someone, mixed with the nerves of learning how to express those feelings. On “Comatose Hope,” Weldon croons a blissful thank-you note to all of her family, friends, and fans who loved, cared for, and supported her during her coma and recovery.
With “Take Me to the Water,” we hear an artist use the theological metaphor of baptism to great effect as she seeks a fresh start post-coma. But my favorite tune might be “Cursed and Blessed,” complete with a description of post-surgery hospital life that is refreshing in its honesty and lack of sugarcoating. I specifically love this stanza:
“I watch my heart beat on a machine
Faces come with tears between
A Post-It note says I’ll be here for a while
I hope that’s a promise I can’t keep.”
Comatose Hope is both an affirmation of the power of hope and a testament to the growing talents of Julia Weldon.
She has effortlessly fused the world-weariness of Emmylou Harris with the pop adornments of Shawn Colvin and in-your-face attitude of Ani DiFranco to create a record that’s emotionally aware and unafraid. And that’s all I really want out of a confessional folk record – it can be adorned and well-appointed with all the trappings of classic folk, but what I really need it to believe you.
And I believe in the hope that sustained Julia Weldon during and after her coma.