It’s an apt title: Katie Pruitt spends much of her debut album Expectations wrestling with the ones that encircled her growing up and realizing that they only have as much power as she gives them. That’s a big deal for someone who grew up gay in a Christian household in Georgia, feeling shame for being different and hiding it, and fear that revealing her true self would result in rejection from her family and friends—sentiments tempered by the late-blooming knowledge that even at her lowest she had a support system to help raise her back up.
Pruitt channels those feelings into the 10 songs on Expectations, an album that leans heavily toward modern folk, with elements here and there of rock and pop: The title track, for example, has an ’80s radio-rock feel with gleaming guitars and a sleek rhythm. The real draw here, though, is her voice, which can sound delicate and feathery. She’s also capable of sudden, robust power, and she can switch from one to the other in a flash. That’s what she does on “My Mind’s a Ship (That’s Going Down),” a making-sense-of-it-all song with a thread of gratitude for a lover’s steadying presence. Pruitt’s voice builds throughout, from a soft, mournful murmur at the start to a commanding cry laced with deep feeling on the final chorus, accompanied by instrumental arrangements that rise and fall, from quiet guitars and keyboards in the verses to bold washes of cymbals on the refrain and a resonant slide guitar break.
Many of the songs on Expectations follow that same pattern, starting quietly and expanding into a ringing climax. It works just as well on the love letter “It’s Always Been You,” where Pruitt sings over rippling piano, joined midway through by string flourishes. She tries a different approach on “Grace Has a Gun,” which ebbs and flows from quiet to loud and back. The song, based on a relationship Pruitt had in college with a woman in the grip of mental illness, is one of the more incisive lyrical efforts on the album, finding the middle ground between compassion and the futility of trying to be an anchor for someone who is unmoored. “She thinks the scars on her arms mean that she’s in control,” Pruitt sings.
Not all of her lyrics land with the same force. Through Pruitt often shows skill at evoking scenes—“Marching in line in the halls of my Catholic school / Seven Hail Marys if I copped an attitude,” she sings on “Normal”—she sometimes falls back on folk signifiers from an earlier era. She travels on a “big jet plane” on “My Mind’s a Ship (That’s Going Down),” and finds herself “standing on this mountain peak” on the title track.” While both are fine symbols, they’ve also been well used by plenty of artists who have come before Pruitt.
Like most songwriters, she’s at her most effective when she sidesteps the obvious image in favor of something more singular. Pruitt does enough of that to make Expectations a solid enough debut that it will be worth waiting to see what she does next.