There’s no easy way to navigate trauma and its aftermath. For musician Jackie McLean, catharsis came in the form of the thought-provoking and musically exemplary album “Another Life,” released in May by her indie rock duo Roan Yellowthorn.

“It was the first time where I was being really honest with myself about where I was and how I was feeling and what I was going through,” the Camden native said in an interview.

Roan Yellowthorn is the duo of McLean and her husband, Shawn Strack, and “Another Life” is their third full-length album. It was recorded at Kaleidoscope Sound in New Jersey in February of last year, just before the coronavirus lockdown. McLean sings and Strack is on drums, percussion and drum programming and also plays guitars on “Vampire” and “Another Life” and Omnichord on “Vikodin.”

Over the course of 11 tracks, McLean acknowledges painful life experiences in cogent songs like “Another Life,” “Unkind” and  “Vampire.” In “Bloodline,” she doesn’t mince words. “I’m (expletive) in the head, I’ve always been. Everyone in my family pretty much is. I try to be happy, but I’m not fine, something’s there in my bloodline.”

As for that bloodline, it’s a complicated one; her father is singer Don McLean, who made headlines in 2016 when he was charged with domestic violence against his now ex-wife Patrisha McLean. More recently, Rolling Stone published a fiery article on June 23 in which Jackie McLean unloaded about years of emotional and mental abuse by her father.

“If I talk about my experiences, my teeth chatter and I get cold and sweaty even if I hear his name,” she told the magazine. McLean declined a request for an interview with the Press Herald for a June 23 story about her father because she said she’d rather focus on the music she’s making than on her family.

When asked about the Rolling Stone interview, McLean explained that she sees it as an essential part of her healing process. “I feel like it was the final step for me to feel like my own individual person, separate from the past that has really held me back in a lot of ways emotionally for a really long time.”

That process, McLean explained, began with the writing of the album’s music and then getting in the room with what she described as “incredible” musicians. “I felt like the truth of my experience was being held by other people in that moment who were able to transform it into something beautiful.”

Roan Yellowthorn album cover for “Another Life.” Photo by Patrisha McLean, Design by Dave Muhr

Something beautiful indeed. Produced by John Agnello, “Another Life” is at times breezy and light, at other times moody and dark with unflinching wordsmithing. McLean sings her truths with clear vocals that remind me at times (in such a good way) of Edie Brickell.

With all the usual instruments, as well as ones like mellotron, organ and harp, “Another Life” is fearless and bold but also the kind of album that gets better with every listen.  Its pop heart will have you singing along, despite the often no-nonsense sentiments expressed.

“It’s a curse, it’s a burden, it’s a neon sign. It’s a secret that I’m hiding for my therapist to find,” McLean sings on “Neon Sign.”

The opening track, “Acid Trip,” has an accompanying video that has racked up more than 155,000 views since being uploaded to YouTube in April.

In May, when the album came out, McLean said it felt like the darkness inside of her had been alchemized and released out of her.

McLean understands that some people might find their way to her music because of who her father is and she’s at peace with that, though it took some time getting there.

“I am who I am, and my family is my family, and that’s something that I think I tried to run away from and tried to believe that I could change that fact because I didn’t want to deal with that messiness of wondering if people were interested in my music for me or they’re curious about something else,” she said.

Jackie McLean. Photo by Patrisha McLean

“Ultimately, I feel like there’s some power in just owning the reality of your situation and who you are. And for me, my dad is who he is and that’s a fact. I just hope that eventually my work will stand on its own,” said McLean. “Maybe if somebody finds my music because they’re initially curious, maybe they’ll hear something that they like. Because I’m going to keep doing this because it’s something that I feel compelled to do.”

On the flip side of family strife is McLean’s mother. They had to make a few repairs to their relationship and, these days, her mom is her biggest fan and loves “Another Life.”

“I feel like I’m always trying to look for someone who’s as enthusiastic as my mom when they hear my music because she’s just always really excited when she hears new songs. I think she said they were her favorites that I’ve written,” said Jackie.

Roan Yellowthorn is the name McLean came up with for herself while attending Bard College. While it didn’t stick then, after graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in language and literature, McLean started writing songs and realized the name served another purpose. “It has really become a refuge, a safe space to create inside of and to feel like I have the freedom to write whatever I want and say whatever I want.  I feel like at its core it’s like my alter ego.”

Although Roan Yellowthorn has yet to tour for “Another Life” (plans are in the works), McLean said they did perform several of the songs live at shows before they were recorded and she loves playing them. “I feel like the more vulnerable and open that I am when I’m performing, the more cathartic I feel and the more I feel a connection to the people who are listening because I’m being so honest. It’s a good feeling to feel that naked on stage. You’re being so yourself in that moment.”

Home these days for McLean is Plattsburgh, New York, where she lives with Strack and their two young daughters, Maya and Rosa.

“Another Life” is available everywhere, including roanyellowthorn.com.

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