Tanner Porter Gives Grace and Patience to Those Finding Their Way on “One Was Gleaming”

Adolescence and middle age are infamously seen as periods of upheaval – emotional, physical, and otherwise – while twenty-somethings are often overlooked, deemed to be in the prime of their lives. Nevertheless, it is often during young adulthood that we truly come of age, challenged to find our own voices and beliefs as we grapple with questions of who to love, what to do with our lives, who we really are, and who we want to be.

In her new album One Was Gleaming (out July 12), Tanner Porter captures this formative period with vulnerability, honesty, and a tremendous degree of insight gleaned from her own experiences. A member of the 2023-2024 Louisville Orchestra’s Creators Corps with degrees in composition from the University of Michigan and Yale, Porter is a veteran orchestrator and talented songwriter – not to mention, an in-demand performer who is currently performing on Broadway in ILLINOISE.

The attractive melodies on One Was Gleaming are supported by a colorful array of instrumental collaborators: string quartet, flute, prepared piano, French horn, drums, guitar, and more, with many of the parts recorded remotely due to the COVID pandemic and seamlessly mixed by co-producer Christopher Botta. The poignant lyrics do not shy away from challenging realities, probing self-doubt and insecurity, fears of not measuring up, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and the heaviness of motherhood. Yet, there are also words of affirmation, growth, and triumph, advice on challenging one’s own doubts and fears, and a passionate reminder that we are all worthy of compassion and love.

The album opens with the pulsing track, “Nothing on Me,” a journey towards self-empowerment, even when such confidence feels impossible and fear, loathing, and anxiety are all too real. Self-doubt is acknowledged through an ethereal haze of flutes, strings, and piano, but it’s ultimately tossed aside. “Do you know what I’m made of?” Porter croons, “Haven’t you seen the strength that I came from? You have nothing on me!” I’m not sure how many times I’ve listened to this track on repeat, but I’m certain it is at least a dozen – “Nothing on Me” is the power ballad I didn’t know I needed.

In “The Best Sign,” inspired by Porter’s neighbor questioning her single status, she muses about the relationships that have failed to materialize at their anticipated times and all the things she expected she would have: a wedding, a shared apartment, a pet cat. Porter’s striking lyrics are vivid and relatable, these straightforward and weary wonderings like a diary entry without pretense or explanation. What to do? The energetic horn licks and marching rhythms of the drums underlie a clear solution: “Run from the road that you dreamt, and you haven’t met yet and might as well keep running from the old alternative. Run for reasons wrong and run for reasons better.”

Meandering melodies led by the flute and the driving drums and electric guitar propel the narrative in “Strange Light,” as Porter begs to know the source of the light, searching for something real, all while finding her way through the night. Clearly, the road to self-discovery is far from straightforward when insecurity and self-doubt are too often lurking around the corner.

Tanner Porter -- Photo by Titilayo Ayangade

Tanner Porter — Photo by Titilayo Ayangade

Two additional tracks stand out for their gorgeous construction and message. In the uplifting title track, “One Was Gleaming,” Porter’s impressive vocals soar over a lush complement of strings and piano as she sings about the person she hopes to become. And in the final song, “For Amy, On Her Thirteenth Birthday,” Porter sings tenderly to her younger self. A modern lullaby of sorts, the lyrics are the words she wishes she had heard when she was that age: “Hey Amy, it’s ok if you’re not ready yet. Hey Amy, love has more than just one angle, each important…there’s nothing wrong with wanting other angles…You have so much more to give, you have so much life to live.” The words exude compassion, kindness, grace, and wisdom, like the gentle counsel of a protective older sister. She sings softly in the higher registers of her voice, soothing and sweet, and ending with sage counsel: “Don’t forget you’re worthy.”

One Was Gleaming is an outstanding, genre-defying album from a uniquely talented composer-songwriter who moves freely between the popular and classical sound worlds that she has eagerly consumed since childhood. Porter is one of very few artists who embrace both popular and classical styles with this level of facility and familiarity, but the result is truly great music – whatever category we might try to assign it – with the complex sonic textures, timbres, and engaging motivic development one would expect from a composer steeped in the classical tradition, paired thoughtfully with incisive lyrics and powerful, unadorned vocalism of a skilled songwriting storyteller. Porter’s poignant texts are brought to life by her gorgeous orchestrations and the equally expressive hues of her voice. This is a rare, must-listen recording from an important artist with much to say.


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