Friday, September 23, 2016

Zoe Nutt - Like You


The yearning and aching assortment of songs Zoe Nutt has compiled for his debut album gives her a leg up on nearly all of her peers. These are finely crafted affairs with an almost ornate beauty – Nutt and her collaborating musicians, alike, are patient in their artistry and never substitute energy for consideration. It isn’t to say that this is an entirely languid, leaden affair. There is urgency in many of the songs, but it isn’t the urgency you might be familiar with in pop songs. Instead, the eleven songs on Like You are guided by the urgency of things unsaid, held within, the urgency of grief and heartache threatening to drag us low. Nutt delivers it all with an amazingly elastic voice capable of exploring a number of points in her wide register while never failing to communicate with her audience.

Like You opens with “Nothing I Can Do”, a virtually flawless first song that doesn’t have a single lull vocally or instrumentally. Nutt’s voice and the music alike move in seamless accord despite her upper register longing piercing far deeper into the listener’s heart. The lyrics have a lovely plain spoken poetry that never gets too clever for its own good and remains accessible throughout. “Antique Soda Pop Love” comes from a similar place, but seems more fragile somehow, like a memory recalled. The lyrics, with their mix of the specific and non-specific, seem to underscore this atmosphere and Nutt’s careful, but enormously attentive, enunciation. The introduction of lonesome brass on the bluesy “Look the Other Way” changes things up in a highly creative way and draws from Nutt one of her most inspired vocals yet. The same deliberation in the earlier vocals is present here as well, but heard in this light, it sounds much more sexy than contemplative. The open-heartedness distinguishing many of the album’s songs finds its finest expression on the title cut. This is one of the album’s tightest songs, but yet occupies a relatively small stage. Nutt’s voice and the shimmering acoustic guitar will touch all but the most cynical.  

“Bones” finds Nutt exploring bluesy sounds once again but without any of the R&B or torch song trappings of the earlier song. Instead, “Bones” is ripped straight from the Delta earth and given a slightly twisting through a country prism. It may not announce itself as one of the album’s major songs, but it is nonetheless a deceptively simple work. Her surprising cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” has none of the slickness heard in the Boss’ original and, instead, takes a more distanced, nuanced approach built along the same sonic paradigm powering much of the album. The album’s final moment comes with “Dearest”, the fullest band treatment that any song on Like You receives, and it’s superb construction helps Nutt capitalize on the last of her stylistic shifts. It’s a memorable ending to one of the most interesting efforts to come along in the Americana genre for some time. The album doesn’t fall cleanly into any one camp, but listeners will likely not care. It’s too good to be concerned with appropriate labels. 

9 out of 10 stars  

Bradley Johnson

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