Half Gringa’s empathetic alt-country harnesses the power of understatement | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Half Gringa’s empathetic alt-country harnesses the power of understatement


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In 2016, Chicago alt-country singer-songwriter Isabel Olive began performing and recording as Half Gringa, a name that refers to her Venezuelan ancestry. As she told music writer Britt Julious in the Trib that year, she wants to use Half Gringa to explore complicated questions about ethnicity and identity. Olive knows she’s unlikely to find easy answers, or even complete ones, and she articulates that on her new self-released second album, Force to Reckon. Throughout the record, Olive engages with and draws inspiration from the grieving process, which she’s been navigating since the death of her grandmother. She understands the power of the understatement, and on the languid “Forty” she considers a loved one’s clothes after their passing, delivering small but devastating details in a gentle lilt—just before the song crescendos into a knockout full-band coda. While detail and intimacy are key to the power of Force to Reckon, Olive realizes how easy it can be to miss the forest for the trees. On the unyieldingly tense “Afraid of Horses,” she acknowledges getting lost in her own thoughts, and recognizes that the unnamed person with whom she struggles to communicate also has a complex inner life—even though she’s unable to fully comprehend what they’re going through. Her empathetic, retrospective point of view colors her doleful vocals, and makes “Afraid of Horses” one of the most stirring songs I’ve heard this year.   v

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