The Luminous Tristan Prettyman

Last week, I had the privilege of seeing singer and songwriter Tristan Prettyman in concert at Fingerprints Records in Long Beach. Prettyman was celebrating the release of her third studio album “Cedar + Gold” and just about to commence a tour in support of the new music.

Dedicated to “anyone who has ever surrendered,” the new album “Cedar + Gold”  is a work of incandescent beauty. Not since the 90s Lilith Fair days of Sarah MacLachlan, has surrender sounded so achingly sweet. Prettyman initially grabs the listener with her pop sensibilities, and draws you in with her songs’ startling depth and honesty.

The album’s title “Cedar + Gold” was inspired by the cedar walls of the home where Prettyman recovered from the heartbreak that inspired much of the album. “Gold” refers to the gold she made in song-form from the heartache. Prettyman’s journey to make this body of music was a soul-searching one and it shows in the emotional depth of the songs. After the success of her first two albums, 2005’s “twenty-three” and 2008’s “Hello,” with tours across the US, Europe, and Japan, Prettyman was burnt-out and decided to take a break and travel through Bali, Australia, and Europe to get re-inspired. Meanwhile, she developed vocal polyps for which she had to have surgery, got engaged to her long-term boyfriend, and then dealt with the heartbreak of his ending their engagement.

The raw emotions stirred up by her life experiences created a stunningly intimate album. This album captures what is one of my favorite things about music or any of the arts: the ability we have as artists to turn any  experience, no matter how tragic, into “gold.” Prettyman does just this, in such a human and relatable way.

Finely produced by Greg Wells, “Cedar + Gold” has beautiful balance of emotions, from the driving strength of “Second Chance” and “My Oh My,” the sass of “The Rebound,” the sensuality of “Bad Drug,” and the heartbreaking honesty of “I Was Gonna Marry You.” The album takes the listener on a journey through the various aching stages of the end of a relationship, from the mournful reflection and surrendering, to finding yourself again on the other side.

During Prettyman’s album release concert, her easy-going stage presence created an atmosphere of sweet comradery with the audience. This rapport was especially felt during her performance of “The Rebound,” a comical song about flirting with a guy in Trader Joes. While some artists struggle to emote the same intimacy live as they captured on their album, Prettyman is able to perform with utter vulnerability during heartbreaking songs like “I Was Gonna Marry You,” “Deepest Ocean Blue,” and “Come Clean.” It’s not often that concerts make me tear up, especially when I am just hearing the songs for the first time, but Prettyman’s emotive alto and heart-rending lyrics could make even the most stoic of us cry.

After witnessing such a luminous performance, I felt very honored to get a chance to meet Prettyman who was just as her songs sound: genuine, sweet, and grounded. I am not bashful to admit Prettyman made herself a new fan in me. I feel like big things are on the horizon for Prettyman with this gorgeous new album and, after seeing her perform and meeting her, I say success couldn’t come to a more deserving artist. “Cedar + Gold” ends with the reflective and poignant “Never Say Never,” which says “may be the best hasn’t happened yet.” I think the best is on its way for this remarkable songwriter.

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