Neither hurricanes nor lack of financing nor a medical emergency kept Gina Forsyth from completing her second solo album.
That’s not to say it didn’t take a while.
Forsyth, a New Orleans-based singer-songwriter, guitarist and fiddler, released Promised Land on Feb. 21, Mardi Gras day. It follows 2001’s You Are Here, also released by the Illinois-based Waterbug Records.
The most serious hindrance to Promised Land’s completion was an 11-day hospital stay and the six weeks of recovery that followed. On the bright side, Forsyth got a song out of the experience, “11 Days,” track 12 on the album.
Loosely conceptual, Promised Land is about a place.
“I’m writing about America,” Forsyth said from New Orleans just after her return from’ Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas.
The original inspiration for the album came during a telephone conversation that took place about a decade ago.
“Somebody told me, ‘Yeah, 10, 15 years from now, America’s gonna be something you’re not gonna recognize,’ ” Forsyth recalled. “From that conversation I figured that I needed to write about America, about how I experience my country.”
In “4th of July,” she depicts a nation divided in the age of social media and hyper political partisanship.
“We got cellphones, we got the Internet, but we don’t talk to each other anymore,” she sings. “When we do talk, it sounds like we’re selling something. No one’s buying ’cause we’re all at war.”
Globalization comes up in “Christmas In China.”
“Tell me how it was I got all these things made in China?” she asks in the song. “They don’t have Christmas in China like in the U.S.A. There they work for chicken feed, 13 hours every day.”
And Carnival time is all work and no play in “What I Did On Mardi Gras Day.”
“Musicians union ain’t there no more,” she sings. “So now you play till you hit the floor, and when you hit the floor they don’t miss a beat, they sweep you to the end of Bourbon Street.”
While America is the general inspiration for Promised Land, Forsyth — a native of Florida raised in Alabama and living in Louisiana since 1983 — finds material more specifically in her native South for “Sweet & Sunny South.”
She also brings a post-Katrina, New Orleans perspective to the songs and, having been a fiddler specializing in Cajun music since the mid-’80s, a Cajun angle, too. “I just threw it all out there,” Forsyth said.
By including social commentary in songs, Forsyth follows the tradition of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and many more folk singer predecessors.
“It’s hard to go through the world around you and not have something to say about it,” she said. “I’m not speaking so much from a partisan point of view. It’s more about how things affect me. It’s like the political is personal.”
In addition to her singer-songwriter career, Forsyth’s work as a Cajun and country music fiddler provides her with much of her income. Her fiddle, for instance, as well as her guitar and singing, is featured on the Songs of the Lower Mississippi Delta two-CD set, a production of the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park.
For the past 17 years, Forsyth has performed with Cajun singer-accordionist Bruce Daigrepont nearly every Sunday at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. She puts her country fiddling to work for Hugh Harris’ Hank Williams tribute shows at the Liberty Theater in Eunice.
“It was an education learning the fiddle parts off those Hank Williams records,” she said. “It blew my mind that those songs are just two-and-a-half, three minutes long. I tend to write four-minute songs, but some of my stronger songs are three-and-a-half minutes. Yeah, it was great listening to the way the master wrote his songs.”
Williams may be universally categorized as a country singer but Forsyth thinks of him as a folk singer.
“He wrote for folks and about folks and he was one of the folks,” she said.