It is always a delight to stumble upon a folk singer-songwriter who makes beautiful music that resonates. Eli Conley’s songs are catchy and intelligent, and his second album, Strong and Tender, is a treat for fans of acoustic music. The lyrics on this album are funny, beautiful, and utterly heartbreaking. Conley’s voice is sweet, with just enough grit to prevent it from sounding at all saccharine. It’s the addictive sort of album that I can listen to over and over again, and quickly start to sing along with.
Conley’s songs speak to the queer experience in a number of ways. “What I’m Worth” is a tear-jerking window into the life of a trans man in what sounds a lot like rural America, from fielding difficult questions about his gender, to fears about losing his job, and the prohibitively high cost of changing his name. “The End” is the heartbreaking story of a queer man who supports his dying, homophobic father, despite cruelty and abuse. “Broke Song” and “Get in My Own Way” are funny, bluesy tunes that are all too relatable. Conley follows the long folk tradition of the political anthem with “Strong”, a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement, including the call to action, “Everybody get together and we’re strong!” The song that gives the album its title, “Strong and Tender”, is perhaps the most powerful, and includes a message that we could all stand to carry with us:
Sometimes people say things about you,
That are so damn far from true.
There will be those who believe them,
But those folks lose out on you.
And it’s so hard to remember.
Yes, it’s so hard to follow through.
You must love yourself strong and tender,
Let the people that you love
Hold tight to you.
Eli Conley comes back to Pittsburgh with a show at The Glitter Box Theater on Saturday, May 13th, as part of the tour for this album. He will be joined by local singer-songwriter Swampwalk, and folk duo Rhubarb. Admission is on a sliding scale, from $5-$15. The show will be preceded by a singing workshop from 4-6, for $10, including admission to the show. Check out Conley’s website for more details.