This new record by Tami Neilson is a stunner! And if that exclamation mark there hints at some surprise then, sure, I’ll ‘fess up, I couldn’t see the fuss at first. I did not like Neilson’s first album. At all. The writing, particularly, felt hackneyed. And I just wasn’t convinced. But things did improve from there – and I’ve enjoyed some of her material, feeling an energy from it, and when she really hits with that voice the comparisons to Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson don’t seem off the mark at all. She’s earned those.
But anyway, let’s not dwell.
Because Dynamite is a whole new thing. About the best country/Americana album you’ll hear out of little ole’ NZ. And if it finally makes sense to hear an American accent, rather than that faked-up Lyttelton version, well, that’s Neilson’s good luck at being born Canadian. She’s based in New Zealand, has been for some time now but her North American roots help here in realising a sound – there’s a truth to her sound that so many other pretenders living here are merely tracing around.
Big props though have to go to Ben Edwards and Delaney Davidson for helping to shape this sound. Lovely twangs of guitar mix with fiddles and O Brother-styled close-mic backing vocals (Texas), there’s a bit of early White Stripes scrappiness on Come Over and the opening track, the first single, the clever lure that pulls you in, Walk (Back To Your Arms), is better than anything Duffy ever tried to do and reminds anyone that might care that Neilson had a crack at impersonating Amy Winehouse on the Stars In Their Eyes show. Where that stab at fleeting fame might not have worked this makeover absolutely nails it. It’s slick, sure, it’s a clever bit of marketing – the way to sell the album, too hook in the Chardonnay-sipping CD buyers – but it’s also a shit-hot recording of a great, great song.
The sound of this album is constantly perfect. Real 1950s sounds on Cry Over You, rinky-dink ride cymbal and little bubbles of electric-twang gee-tar and sleepy, weepy steel – then that soaring roar of a voice that’ll have you lining this up right next to Patsy Cline’s very best efforts. But where, half a decade ago, Neilson was still finding this voice, and locating her voice somewhere within it, now it’s a confidant country chanteuse that shifts gears for tears-in-beers ballads like Your Lie and then the dance-on-the-bar rock’n’roll rumba of the slinky, sultry title track.
And what’s best about Dynamite is the trim running time. All of this happens – all of this great, perfect, music – in under half an hour. You don’t ever feel cheated by that. You just play it again. And again. Because it’s one of the best albums you’ll hear anytime soon.
Finally, definitively, Tami Neilson – with the Tami Neilson sound – has arrived.