Folk music for the modern age

Elliah Heifetz presents First Generation American

4 minute read
Heifetz stands in front of door outside, magic hour light tints his multicolored button up.
Elliah Heifetz's new album releases this week. (Photo by Angelina Castillo.)

As a child of immigrants, Elliah Heifetz expresses eternal gratitude for the life and opportunities he was given growing up in the US. One of those opportunities is being able to make music and share it with the world. But Heifetz recognizes the flaws that still exist in our society and within the immigration system, and tells that story in his folk album First Generation American, due out April 1, 2022.

Heifetz’s parents immigrated to Philadelphia from Latvia (when it was still part of the USSR) with less than $20 to their name and a six-year-old daughter (Heifetz’s older sister). His father was a classical musician and instilled a deep love for music in his son. Heifetz began making music at a young age, prior to forming a rock band with his friends in high school. They performed at places like the Troc and World Café Live. Heifetz continued to perform during college, first at parties and then booking professional venues. In 2019, he released his first EP, New Folk Songs.

The American Dream

According to Heifetz, his music and his journey closely resemble the American Dream. He believes that if it weren’t for his parents immigrating to this country, he would not be able to do what he loves everyday.

However, Heifetz is concerned that others are missing the privilege he has been granted. He says that it was during the Trump administration, “with the separation of mothers and children and the detainment of people for extreme lengths of time,” that he came up with the concept for First Generation American. He realized that if it were not for a few degrees of separation, this could have been him—and it would have been devastating.

Formed by folk

Influenced by folk and country singers like John Prine, Emmylou Harris, and Townes Van Zandt, Heifetz’s music is different from the genres he, as an immigrant on the east coast, was expected to take to. He recalls listening to “I’ve Just Seen a Face” by the Beatles as one of his earliest memories, and remembers going to see Big River at Philly’s Academy of Music, which was one of the only shows at the time featuring country music.

Many of his new album’s songs, such as “Living Proof,” “Keep the Grass in the Ground,” and “Bustleton Avenue” resemble the music of his greatest influences in terms of both subject and instrumentals. Folk and country singers commonly tell a story with their music, which is something many of Heifetz’s songs do as well. However, unlike most folk classics—often about love and American pride—First Generation American speaks to the positives as well as the negatives of life in the US.

In “Modern Man,” a standout up-tempo song reminiscent of The Who, Heifetz sings about the struggles of living in the 21st century and through a pandemic. The song is both catchy and hilarious. And in the title song, “First Generation American,” Heifetz gives his personal take on “Born in the USA.” This time, it’s from the perspective of an immigrant and features a bit more country twang.

“So my parents came from an iron curtain, they just couldn’t say my name so well, but I was raised by the Constitution and the cracks on the Liberty Bell,” he sings.

“Anxiety,” one of the album’s more soulful tunes, is a beautiful, internal exploration of what it means to have anxiety. Heifetz recognizes that anxiety comes from the chaos of the external world joining forces with one’s internal world. “This Land,” with a refrain of “this land of mine will never change,” is a clever critique of American society that manages to make you both think deeply and want to snap your fingers.

From the mandolin and the accordion to the bass and baritone guitar, the album boasts a wide range of sounds and aims to appeal to diverse listeners, telling a story for everyone, with lyrics meant for singing along. While often engaging in satire, First Generation American wholeheartedly embraces some of our favorite country music references (like beer and cheeseburgers) along with good ol’ American pride. It’s the perfect mix of parody and sincerity.

What, When, Where

First Generation American. By Elliah Heifetz. Streaming on SoundCloud, Spotify, and Apple Music starting April 1, 2022. See more online.

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