Review: ‘Poor Pretender’, Long Mama

Long Mama is a project that finds its origins in grief. Singer-songwriter Kat Wodtke spent her formative years untethered, drifting through the upper Midwest and Alaska, falling in love with indie bands and writers discovered in DIY venues and bookstores. Along the way, Kat crafted her own songs, until 2018, when a friend’s death left her rattled and heartbroken, her musical ambitions sidelined. Over time, she began to find solace in friendship and song. Under the name Long Mama, Wodtke has released her debut Poor Pretender, a hushed record rife with departures and narratives that beg remembrance of broken relationships before the memories slip away.

Poor Pretender is mood music, most songs edging along at a glacial pace, Wodtke’s gentle voice seldom rising above the conversational. At times, the heartbreak is personal. She stares down failed romance in the title track, where her everything’s-fine front is destined to collapse. On “Clean Break,” she sings about the out-of-nowhere abandon that we now call ghosting. Yet all is not lost; there’s also empowerment. Of the almost-grinning “Half Love” Wodtke says, “I decided I’d rather be alone and get right with myself than stay with someone who slowly but steadily eroded my sense of self-worth.” “Take Me Out” confronts a friend’s suicide and its aftermath and gives way to gratitude for the support system that became Wodtke’s harbor lights.

Given Wodtke’s love for the fiction of Carson McCullers and Sam Shephard, it’s no surprise that Poor Pretender’s strongest tracks are the minidramas, first-person beyond-the-grave accounts of bad deeds and bad loves. “Badlands Honeymoon” and “The Narrows” are coffee house murder ballads, more haunting than bloody, but nevertheless grim for Wodtke’s forensic details. Most striking is “Dust and Gravel,” a topical, true-to-life expose in the folk tradition that explores the fate of WWII-era Women Airforce Service Pilots. “There was some evidence,” Wodtke says, “that American male pilots were sabotaging the women’s planes, pouring sugar in their gas tanks before take-off. So this is a song born from sugar, sexism, and sabotage.The song’s haunting refrain— “You poured sugar in my engine”— is an indictment that seems to go on for hours.

Poor Pretender makes its case as a winter months staple, the songs desolate enough to mirror the gray days and long nights, but undergirded with enough dots of hope that assure us spring is inevitable. 

Order Poor Pretender now on CD, vinyl, or through your favorite digital platform.

Charlie Farmer is a Georgia writer and professor who loves his wife, his daughters, his students, his cats, his books, his LPs, and everything else one should love in life.