Country music is an undeniably American art form. When you put on a country album, you expect to hear a distinctly American perspective. Elliah Heifetz delivers that in his debut album First Generation American. At the same time, his is not a perspective we hear often.
As the title of the album suggests, Elliah Heifitz is a first-generation American. His parents came here as political refugees from the Soviet Union in the 90s. According to Heifetz’s website, the songs on this record are about “feeling ‘less than American’ his whole life.” Ironically, this is an incredibly American album. Each song is a testament to Elliah’s deep respect for the musical tradition to which he’s adding.
However, it isn’t just the traditional country sound of the bulk of the record that makes it so good. Elliah Heifetz’s songwriting is the backbone of the album. He reaches into his life and displays his humor, tells us about the hard times, and examines his feelings of alienation as a first-generation citizen. More than a fresh perspective, Heifetz has an incredible songwriting style that paints vivid pictures. There are moments in this record in songs like “Living Proof” and “Anxiety” that remind me of John Prine’s writing style. In short, these are incredibly well-written songs over a tightly-woven country backdrop.
With that said, let’s dig into a few of my favorite songs from First Generation American.
Stand-Out Tracks from First Generation American
I’ve listened to this album a few times today and found that it wasn’t all that hard to pick the stand-out tracks this time. Don’t get me wrong, there’s not a bad song on this record. I’ve had it on repeat –where it will stay for a while – almost all day and haven’t skipped a single song. I just turn some up a little louder when they come on.
Elliah Heifetz knew what he was doing when he opened his album with the title track. I hadn’t heard anything from Heifetz before I clicked play on this record early this morning. Within seconds, I was hooked.
“I am a first-generation American. / Do anything, yeah I got it made. / I was born in the U.S.A.,” Heifetz belts in the opening seconds of this Zydeco toe-tapper. The fiddle and accordion make a great backdrop for the tongue-in-cheek track.
Throughout the song, he reflects on the identity crisis that comes with being a child of immigrants. Lines like “So my parents came from an Iron Curtain / Neighbors couldn’t say my name so well. / But I was raised by the Constitution and the cracks of the Liberty Bell,” drive that point home.
“This Land of Mine”
This might be my favorite song on the album. Sonically, “This Land of Mine” sounds like a Western-style story song. The thumping bass and soaring steel guitar set the stage for a gunfighter ballad. Instead of gunfire, though, the song is full of social commentary. Lines like “There’s a three-hour hold on the hotline. / And there’s a banker doling out the blame. / Unless the Lord or something else/ comes and turns it on itself/ this land of mine will never change,” distill the spirit of the song.
This track opens with some finger-picking and pedal steel as Heifetz namechecks several classic duet pairs. At first, it seems like a tribute to the legends, and it is, in a way. More than that, though, this track is, at the same time, a beautiful love song and a commentary on Heifetz’s unconventional place in the world of country music.
“Southern roots? Ah, heck, who needs ‘em? / We’ve both seen the blues before. / Some come on, let’s go sore-thumb stickin’. / Left-wing, nose ring, old-time pickin’. / You just wait the world will listen/ when we take the floor,” doesn’t just strike to the heart of the song. It’s really the attitude of the entire album.
Final Verdict on Elliah Heifetz’s Debut Album
Elliah Heifetz took the floor with his debut album and country fans across the nation should be listening. First Generation American is like a road trip through country music. Each song lets you hang around long enough to see the sights before moving on to the next stop. The instrumentation is flawless and Heifetz’s songwriting is phenomenal.
So, fellow Outsiders, if you’re looking for something a little different that’s going to tick all of the country boxes, this is it.