Listen to Formation, Look For The Signs
Geez, just when I thought I’d totally fucking had it with this fucking desperation for so many local things to try to, erm, hitch their wagon to a country-flavour, to be written up as Americana (nonsensical as a term now, there are more Americana acts coming out of Lyttelton than an- ywhere else in the world apparently?!) or even trot out this “folk” tag I finally get to hear this; the debut album by Nadia Reid.
And this album is wonderful.
And, if you must, you can throw a folk tag at it, saddle it up and slap its ass and call it Americana too. But what I love about this is the thought that’s gone in, the measuring, the economy; the idea – seemingly lost – to jettison the lesser songs, they’re not a waste, just wasted if you include them. This is a nine-song stunner of an album, no flab, no fluff, lean and haunted and exquisite. And often nearly perfect.
Most often I’m reminded of another direction The Cowboy Junkies could have gone – and when Reid first hints at that sound it’s on the album’s second song, Track of the Time. But it continues on through the big-rock guitars of Reaching Through. By Holy Low, just four songs in, we’re back to the ghostly shimmers first felt on the opening track, Runway. It’s in these two songs where the alt-country/folk/Americana tags are probably fair enough, but what makes Reid’s version work – and rise above, beyond being merely that – is the way her voice soars. She’s got that torch-balladry touch that Nicole Atkins has used so brilliantly. And tas jagged slices of guitar continue to run down the sides of songs (Just To Feel Alive) there’s something sinewy and vital about these performances – and these songs. Doubly crafted, Reid caring about both the composition and the record. Again, this seems like lost art in most cases these days. Only Marlon Williams has a similar grasp.
The jagged lope of Seasons Change makes way for the gorgeous slow-crawl ballad that is Some Are Lucky. Ruby is wistful, poetic. The cymbals swirl like rising tides, the guitars softly scrape against the sides, but it’s the voice steering this song on.
Call The Days makes clever use of country-blues geetar-twang – every move on this album has been so well planned, but it never sounds calculated, cynical, detached or faux-authentic. That’s been my stumbling block around this whole “alleged Americana” thing we Kiwis are apparently doing. I just needed to hear something real.
Here it is. Gorgeous and engrossing. A wonderful stand-alone gem.
So, also, wonderful job by Ben Edwards (producing/recording) and Ben Delany (mastering) and to the band of players on this – Sam Taylor, Joe McCallum, Anita Clark and Richie Pickard. All very tasteful. All knowing how to sit back and let that voice give flight to these tunes, all knowing to step back so the songs can fully soar.