"Round here, you can be however you wanna be," Elise Davis sings at the end "33," one of 10 self-empowered southern anthems from her newest album, Cactus.
Released two years after The Token — Davis' 2016 debut, whose electrified roots-rock sound earned praised from outlets like Rolling Stone Country, Noisey, and The Wall Street Journal — Cactus shows the full range of her songwriting. Here, she moves between lush alt-country and stripped-down folk confessionals, gluing everything together with story-driven songs about independence, liberation, and resilience as an adult woman. If The Token's own songs were vulnerable and diary-like, their lyrics pulled from Davis' past romances, then Cactus turns a new leaf, with Davis taking pride in her status as a single, self-sufficient adult woman. Like the desert plant that lends the album its title, she doesn't need help from others to grow tall.
"Cacti are independent plants that sustain themselves," she explains. "They can be beautiful with bright-colored flowers on them, but if you touch them, they will hurt you. I see a lot of parallels with the way I have felt most of my life. It felt like the perfect album title for these songs."
Davis' independent streak began in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she began writing songs at 12 years old. By college, she was booking her own tours and gigging regionally across the state. It was her relocation to Nashville that kickstarted the busiest phase of her career, though, with Davis landing a publishing deal during her first two years in town. Daily co-writing sessions whittled her songwriting to a sharp point, while an ongoing string of recordings — including The Token, recorded in Maine and released in partnership with Thirty Tigers — all showcased a musician who shone just as brightly onstage as she did in the writing room.