The Band Perry’s debut single “Hip to my Heart” was a sprightly, effervescent sliver of youth-laden pop country–a pleasant sounding droplet so light that it quickly evaporated into the ether. For its follow up, the sibling trio delivers a track with significantly more narrative volume: Written solo by lead singer Kimberly, “If I Die Young” is a weighty, introspective take on life’s evanescence.
Fittingly, the song opens to the sound of Kimberly taking in a breath. Gentle fiddle and guitar accompany her raspy, almost-hushed delivery of the song’s chorus up until a banjo and drum track join in for the first repeat of the refrain. “If I Die Young” remains mostly acoustic throughout, boasting a series of delightful arrangements that underline Kimberly’s beautiful vocal performance–she has a rich, slightly weathered voice that really brings home the song’s melancholy.
In addition to that great vocal, Kimberly’s songwriting demonstrates a command of language and craft that allows her to construct thick, interesting lyrics. “Lord, make me a rainbow,” she pleads in the song’s opening verse. “I’ll shine down on my mother/She’ll know I’m safe with you when she stands under my colors.”
Throughout the song, Kimberly shows that she has a unique perspective and a knack for resonant phrasing. So it’s unfortunate that “If I Die Young” loses its way a bit as it tries to be two songs at once—either one of which, alone, would have made a more powerful and less disorienting statement.
At the outset, the song’s narrator seems to be presenting the hypothetical situation outlined in the title. “If I die young,” she sings, “Bury me in satin/Lay me down on a bed of roses.”
But by the second half of the first verse, Kimberly employs such strong language that it’s hard to tell whether or not the song is meant to ponder the hypothetical or to speak prophetically. Lyrics that refer to the ring on the narrator’s “cold finger,” the image of a mother burying her daughter, and morbid lines about earning respect after she’s “a goner” make it seem like the narrator actually expects to die.
And that’s quite a bit different that the “what if?” rumination set up by various parts of the song. We’re left to wonder exactly what’s going through her head–what’s causing these thoughts of death? And what’s the ultimate point she’s trying to convey to us? The concept is murky, at best, and although many of the individual pieces are well drawn the whole is difficult to follow.
Without a sense of direction threaded throughout the narrative, “If I Die Young” offers neither hope nor resolution==what’s left is a series of exceedingly dark, loosely connected statements.
Still, it’s a surprisingly interesting and creative entry from a band that at first appeared to be aiming for very little. Here’s hoping this is only the beginning of Kimberly’s songwriting journey–and that future efforts bring all of these pieces into alignment.