Graham Reid | | 2 min read
It's a curious thing that in New Zealand where country and alt.country of various persuasions has become increasingly popular that an album like this slips past most people. It slipped past me until very recently, although I'm pleased to note her previous one Red Dirt Angel, didn't go around the judges at the 2009 music awards who picked it as the country album of last year.
Without having heard the other contenders for next year I'm prepared to bet this will be pretty far ahead the rest of the pack. It shifts easily from being moving to upbeat fun, delightful to raunchy . . .
Canadian-born Neilson grew up in a family of musicians and was part of their traveling band (a country music Partridge Family, she jokes) but has moved to this far side of the world.
While back in Canada seeing family they were sitting around the kitchen table swapping songs and so the idea of an equally informal album was born.
That's not to say these 16 songs (among them some terrific originals, more of that soon) are lo-fi and aw-shucks. These are smart and sensitively produced songs, just tune in to the aural clarity and early Cowboy Junkies-like guitar sound on her cover of Dream with her brother Jay. Beautiful.
Recorded in Canada with various Neilsons (Marian Burns' fiddle part was recorded in New Zealand), this one also takes some serious chances: a banjo-driven version of Sam and Dave's sexual steamer Hold On? A bluegrass take on Dave Dobbyn's Slice of Heaven? The old Salty Dog Blues?
Only the most confident of talents would take those chances -- and Neilson certainly has that self-assurance. (She was "Amy Winehouse" on a Stars in Their Eyes show which is ample evidence for me.)
She opens with the alarmingly good original Cry Myself to Sleep which works those dramatic Roy Orbison/Gene Pitney emotions: "I wave hello and my smile is bright, I am so gracious, so polite each time you pass me on the street, and then I cry myself to sleep. And when I'm laughing with my friends, they say they're glad I'm on the mend . . ."
This exceptional song is co-written with Jay, and their writing partnership forms the backbone of this album (six of the 12 Neilson family originals here) and is about as good as it gets in country music.
When she and Jay merge their voices (be it on the gentle ballad Full of Moon or the uptempo tunes) real magic sparks.
And these songs have classic country emotions being pulled apart: "You want to kiss and pretend that we've never met" on the aching I Fall to Pieces; "I didn't believe my eyes until you waved goodbye" on the haunting Girl on the Moon; "You say my name when we enter a room with your hand on the small of my back" on the lovely My Name . . .
There's also the raunchy Six Months Married which would rock any bar, let alone a kitchen.
That subtitle "Volume 1" just makes you want them to get together in the Neilson kitchen again real soon. Excellent album.