Kentucky is bountiful when it comes to singer-songwriters these days. It’s kinda embarrassing to be honest, but we’ll sure as heck enjoy the ride while we can.
Today, I want to focus our little spotlight on one of the youngest, but brightest rising stars in Larah Helayne. Larah is an inspiration in many ways, and the future is a very bright one that I’ll be watching for a very long time.
Photo By Erica Chambers
So allow me to introduce you to Larah for a bit. Larah hails from the home of ‘Court Days’ which is a festival that takes place every year in Mount Sterling, Kentucky. The Whirlin’ Sterlin’ as it’s often referred to. Helayne is a strong voice within the LBGTQ+ community. Identifying as non-binary, Larah is blazing a path that is dubbed as they lovingly describe as “Queer Country: for the adolescent and adventurous.” So it’s no coincidence that Larah is releasing this sophomore EP during Pride Month. Yet another wink and nudge that Larah knows where they want their heart and full attention to be. Helayne recently dropped out of the University of Kentucky to pursue music full-time. A move that could become a truly defining moment in Larah’s career.
Photo By Erica Chambers
I first became aware of Larah back in, I want to say early 2019. I stumbled upon a video of a performance of the song “Roots.” It was filmed on a porch in a porch swing, Larah made me a fan. I couldn’t find the original upload of that video, but it did come up in a google search on a songwriting competition page, and you can watch that here.
That video eventually led me to a contest at the Steam Engine Listening Room in Irvine, Kentucky. It was there that Larah performed and won the contest, but also my heart. I had never seen a more courageous, fierce and completely transparent person on a stage than Larah. I became a believer.
Fast forward through some tough battles and the pandemic, and we find ourselves on the day that ‘Good Riddance’ is unleashed upon the world. A great day for music, as the world is fully introduced to Helayne’s Appalachian Queer.
I felt it important to share a bit more information about Larah than most of my articles, as I said, their voice is an important one. Now, you get to experience the transparency and courage that I saw on that stage in Irvine, Kentucky.
Kicking things off, is the title track, “Good Riddance.” If you’re a fan of Kentucky music, you’ll immediately recognize the guitar tones and guitar stylings of Josh Nolan. Josh also wore a second hat for this project, as he is also the producer. I tell you that to set the table for the ride you’re about to take. Anything Josh touches becomes gold, so when you add the layers of lyrical complexity and perfectly controlled vocals of Larah, you’ve got an immediate winner and an early favorite on this 5-song release.
“State Line” is up next and it happens to be the first single from ‘Good Riddance.’ The song is pretty self-explanatory, a recollection of a relationship that helped shape who they are. You’ll find, and likely love, a wonderful hook with Larah’s refreshing twist on delivering examples of whatever longitude and latitude the story takes place. Referencing the Blue Ridge Mountains, The Stanley Brothers, Clinch, the Cumberlands, it’s all interjected into the story and you are drawn into the song like a Van Gogh painting.
Now the release gets heavy, and dark, BUT, as we all should aspire to do, Larah takes something ugly and created something beautiful from it. “Alcohol For Roses” is the tale of their alcoholic father who was also abusive. It’s an open book look into the experience of death, the hurt, the resentment, the confusion, the questions, the grief, but most importantly the growth from such an awful experience. There simply is no better example of the songwriting prowess that captivated me from that Irvine stage. If you only listen to one song from this release, I beg of you to make it this one. Push play, listen intently and take in the journey that is so vividly placed before you. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more healing song released this year, or any other for that matter.
“Passenger Side” is a rambunctious foot tapping story chronicling their journey to finding someone to love that’s sitting on the “Passenger Side.” Someone to share a life and journey with. It’s a song that could have easily been on their first EP, which focused on their adolescence. Culminating in what was essentially a love story about Kentucky. Both EP’s are so daggum good.
Ending ‘Good Riddance’ is “Story Song.” This is the song I’d plead for you to listen to after “Alcohol For Roses.” Why? Because it’s a stripped-down performance of Larah and their banjo, but the atmosphere that is provided by Josh Nolan takes it to an entirely new level. It’s called “Story Song” for a reason, so I’m going stop short on this one and let you discover this one on your own.