Flying Nun Records
I’ve long been a fan of Reb Fountain’s work – her solo material, her collaborations; heck, if she’s on the stage as a backing singer (and I’ve seen her in that role often, as part of tribute shows or just working with a kindred musical spirit) she brings something to each and every performance that is so innately musical, never hogging the limelight at the expense of other players but so magnetic in her musical personality.
In short: she’s worth watching, worth hearing. If she’s on the record or the stage then she’s worth listening to. You can’t not listen to her. Her performance draws you in.
And so it is with this self-titled album. A rebirth of sorts, not at all a rebrand but a switch of gears, change in direction, maturing of her as song creator, not just song conjurer.
Now, if I’m slow to review this album I wasn’t slow on hearing it. I loved it as soon as I heard it – but it arrived in the lockdown and was released around the same time as extraordinary returns from both Fiona Apple and Shelby Lynne. (I still haven’t got to putting down some words about the Apple). We don’t need to compare these artists, but Fountain’s album sits with those – and also albums released this year by Laura Marling, Lucinda Williams and Cowboy Junkies as one of the records I’ve felt as being something of a spirit guide.
It’s there in the opening song, Hawks & Doves, a searing vocal take from Fountain, the poetry of her soul bubbling up and then over through this song and its immediate follow-on, Samson. I’ve previously spotted the influence of Patti Smith, the way she can effortlessly phrase and flow from song to spoken-word and back again. Here this again, winningly, is on display. And I think of Rickie Lee Jones’ way with the shape of a word too.
There’s a more commercial sound here too – but why say that like it’s any bad thing at all. Sometimes, just sometimes, an artist can make their most commercial-sounding record and it can also be their best. I think, with plenty of time now to digest this properly, that’s exactly what I’m hearing here. Like Tami Neilson before her, Fountain’s early Americana sound has now morphed entirely into Her Own Sound. These are Reb Fountain Songs. They may have country glitter and Americana sparkles from time to time (certainly that’s still the case with Tami’s work anyway), but they are, more often, more likely ,a dramatic torch balladry that is part Tori Amos, part Bic Runga (Birds-era) and Dave Khan’s instrumental prowess, arranging skills and production duties must be mentioned as a crucial part of that special sauce.
There are guest turns from Finn Andrews (When Gods Lie) and Elroy Finn (Quiet Like The Rain) because, as mentioned, Reb Fountain is a constant collaborator, she suits being a duet-partner, craves it I’m sure. Also, Quiet Like The Rain is another Bic Runga-like moment of pure torch balladry. It’s exquisite.
I’m loving this record. It’s been one of my slow-burn favourites of 2020. A strange year calls for mercurial music. Reb’s made some of her best work here. We’re lucky to have this. It’s soul music, heart music and head music all in one. It’s a special record from a special musical talent.
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