Nora Jane Struthers performs her own balancing act on ‘Back to Cast Iron’

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Recommended Tracks: “Back to Cast Iron,” “I Can Hear the Birds,” “Life of a Dream”
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Kelsey Waldon, Lilly Hiatt, Rachel Baiman

Is life just one huge balancing act? I mean, when I think about it, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t trying to juggle what I had to do and what I wanted to do. Growing up, there’s that balance between school life and home life, which gets more complicated as the years go on. Soon, you are trying to balance school, family, friends, a job, hobbies… And then when you graduate, you have to balance a career, a social life of some form, relationships, marriages, children… As we hear on Back to Cast Iron, the latest album from Nora Jane Struthers, the balancing act does not give way to middle ground so easily. There are long nights, plenty of hours on the road, and lots of time spent wondering about certain actions or choices, which means that sacrifices and tough decisions are constantly being made. But in the end, Nora does what she can to make it work, and her songs are here to inspire listeners to do what they can to make the most out of their own balancing acts as well.

A portion of the album lends itself to parenting, complete with the ways it can fill you with life or drain all the emotion from your soul. On the title track, which she mentions is the “bedrock of this album,” Nora sheds light on new motherhood. She previously stated that the track was about the process of weaning her daughter and the way the media can put a damper on that process, choosing to only focus on the negatives. Here, she demonstrates that it’s not as adverse as it seems, especially through the line, “And it’s hard to say goodbye to something you love,” which repeats throughout the track. Elsewhere, Nora actually does get into the more demanding aspects of motherhood and raising kids with “Children They Need You (All of the Time)” and “Trying to Get Ready.” She observes the lack of personal time, the constant rush, and the ways that she is constantly adapting to this lifestyle, her weary vocals on the former track and fast-paced energy of the latter track enhancing her words.

Another portion of the album focuses on Nora’s observations on life and the lessons she has learned. On the opening track, “Is it Hope,” she takes us back to 2021 when she was close to giving birth to her son. At the time, she was desperate for family and friends to help her out after the birth, but she was not sure if travel restrictions would ease or if it would be safe enough to have people around in general. But she had hope that things would change soon, and she channels that hope in lines like, “Oh, I feel it / Just a spark inside of me / Oh, I feel it / Is it hope? Can it be?” and “Maybe by July, I can hug my mom / My dad can meet my son.” The steady folk ballad “I Can Hear the Birds” is also covid and lockdown-based, written at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Throughout the track, Nora ruminates on the problems going on outside in the world, the pressures she faces inside, and the relief she finds through the sound of birds singing. It ties into “Life of a Dream,” which follows “I Can Hear the Birds” on the album. On this track, Nora reflects on what really matters, comparing the importance of money or work to that of following dreams and embracing all that life has to offer. She wants to know what happens to dreams when people give up on them or let them go, and the notion of letting go is one that is hard to process. We hear on “Something Wild” that it is best to let life unfold, no matter how badly you want to hang on. She sings about the tragedy that comes after replanting a weed that eventually dies or watching a young girl face the world only to come back home in tears. Even if it is hard, you have to step aside, “Because you can’t make something wild grow in your garden / Hold something bright too tightly, it will darken.”

On top of these lingering thoughts, memories, and family dynamics, Nora has to navigate a life on the road. There are many appealing aspects to touring and bringing your music to those around the world, such as taking in new or interesting sights. With “Car Henge,” Nora mentions one destination that took her breath away. She shapes the track with the sounds of folk rock and Americana imagery, building up this car-lover anthem. She sings, “The baddest thing I’ve ever seen / Is a bunch of cars painted gray / Car henge! / Alliance, Nebraska / Car henge! / Sexier than Cleopatra.” On “Back on the Road,” she daydreams about the places she has passed through, mentioning, “Virgina in the spring / Nothing’s sweeter than a Carolina peach” and “Sunsets on the West Coast.” But even so, she still gets excited to return home, as she admits on “Oh to Be Home.” Between the thrashing sounds of the drums, Nora dabbles in the joys of comfort and familiarity, giving us lines like, “I used to travel all around / Out to the plains, mountains, and low-grounds / But every time I’d reach the coast / My heart would sing, ‘I’ve come back home.’”

Overall, Back to Cast Iron is full of life, full of adventure. From the imagery she creates with the Americana lyrics to the diverse melodies and harmonies, Nora offers a well-rounded album that explores the ins-and-outs of “doing it all.” While most of us are not touring musicians raising two children, we are still able to relate to the stories that Nora presents to us on the album, as she touches on experiences that we all share. Surely, someone understands the demands of children, someone understands holding onto hope, someone has gotten lost in thought to the sounds of birds singing, someone has chased a dream… In the end, navigating all these encounters and finding a way to make them flow is challenging, but it is important to not get lost in the minutiae.

You can listen to Back to Cast Iron on platforms like Apple Music and Spotify.

Keep up with Nora Jane Struthers: X // Instagram // Facebook // YouTube // Website

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