When you’re the youngest daughter in a working family of six, it’s hard to be heard. Lucky for Lena Elizabeth, she has a cannon in her throat.
When Elizabeth walks on stage with her baritone ukulele and coy smile, people expect to be treated to the playful tinkerings of a pixie. Then she strikes a resonant minor chord. Then she howls a dark gospel hymn. Then nothing makes sense anymore.
“That is the best part about what I do,” Elizabeth says, slyly. “People are like, ‘Oh, it’s this cute girl, and she’s gonna play ukulele.’ And then I just take that all away from them.”
Elizabeth’s late 2018 record Get It Right is an education in razing expectations, getting the whiplash out of the way early with opener “Loaded Gun.” Right away, she weaponizes her voice in the way that she learned when she was young and jostling for attention above her three older brothers.
“When I was 8, I really wanted to do a talent show,” she says. “It was probably the first time that I sang in front of a large group of people, and everybody shut up. In that moment, I was like, ‘That was amazing, this is what I want.’ I was used to being talked over a lot, and my voice was how I could get people to listen.”
Elizabeth first staked out her platform with 2017’s The Line, though looking back, she admits that EP was an exhibit of a young artist’s first strokes. Get It Right is a fully formed journey into that artist's identity. From the opening boom to the simpering final moments, Elizabeth climbs through interpersonal bullshit to find her truest self.
The first step is an assertion. After "Loaded Gun" comes the toxic lovesong "Crazy for You." Then, album highlight "No One Wants You," which builds to a triumphant "go fuck yourself" to all the men who've exploited their power over her career. Elizabeth admits she's turned some fans off with the no-punches-pulled portrait of being a young woman in the music industry, but as Vicky Emerson learned earlier this year, there is great power in truth telling.
Elizabeth admits the writing process for Get It Right was "terrifying."
"I’m just laying myself out, this is me," she says. "[But] people have told me what's refreshing about my songs is that they are straight to the point."
Rarely will you hear a metaphor on Get It Right. The lyrics are close to the bone. "Dementia" is a powerful yarn about Elizabeth's grandfather and his slipping mind. Immediately recognizable to anyone with an addict in their family, "Wasted" rustles up a tempest of outrage directed at Elizabeth's alcoholic relative. It's a dark, penetrating emotion, and Elizabeth had never expressed it aloud until she put it to music.
"I let myself process that way, it's very therapeutic," she says. "I was gonna write these songs either way, but the difference is I’m choosing to share it with people in a very public way."
As Elizabeth exorcises these troubles, one by one, she ascends into self-assurance. She chose the "Get It Right" for the title track because of how it capitulates this process. “I know you want to break me,” she sings amid a driving stomp, “please don’t overrate me.”
From there, Elizabeth is free to find new relationships. On "Love Me So," she defianes her new lover to accept her for her. "Always" is a fearless ode to Elizabeth's husband, written for their wedding, which took place right around the records release.
"That was me accepting myself," she says. "Finally, after I’ve accepted myself, I can love someone else."
But all is not solved, and Get It Right ends on a heartsick note. Elizabeth's grandfather -- the same one tributes on "Dementia" -- passed away right around her wedding. He's eulogized on the album's finale, "Go on Home." The song was a late addition to the tracklist, but Elizabeth felt that it gave the record a bittersweet realism.
Even in moments of self-actualization, we are still far from complete. It's an everlasting process, which means Elizabeth will need to keep writing songs so long as life tries to undermine it. But at least she's gotten it right one time.
"We all have our shit, but we have to accept it and accept who we are," she says. "That’s when you can find love."
With: Freaque, Charles Rodreick, Danny Akah
Where: Cedar Cultural Center
When: 8 p.m. Sat. July 20
Tickets: $12-$15; more info here