Zoe Nutt – Like You
One of the most beautiful qualities distinguishing Zoe Nutt’s first album from her peers is the effortless, organic feel permeating every song. The eleven tracks on Like You share an unity of sound and thematic purpose that never overreaches its strengths while continually pursuing lyrical, vocal, and melodic excellence. The songwriting is tightly constructed; Nutt and her fellow musicians are clearly cut from the cloth that believe in every note and turn serving the purpose of making the song greater as a whole. The instrumentation is deliberately limited as the performances and production alike concentrate on providing Nutt with a dramatic, yet never overwrought, forum for her voice and songwriting. Nothing here comes cheaper or unnecessarily gaudy. Instead, the songs on Like You have a delicate beauty that is, in turns, theatrical and quite sincere.
She starts things off with “Nothing I Can Do”. The solo vocal introduction sets the album up remarkably well and her cadence on the song’s opening lines bubbles over with emotion and sensitivity. The backing performance is from a top shelf group of musicians possessing the ability to gauge, down to the smallest detail, exactly what Nutt and the song need to realize the potential here. “Cry on You” has a light musical backing with ghostly drums and fragile guitar lines weaving delicate melodies. Nutt glides over the top of this gossamer arrangement with the same astonishing clarity and attention to detail setting her vocal in the opener so apart from her peers. She covers Justin Townes Earle to spectacular effect on the steamy blues crawl “Look the Other Way”. This track is pure torch song bliss, but once again, Nutt and her band never milk the bluesy aspect until it becomes clichéd and purple. The title song, one of the album’s most lyrical moments, is perfectly illustrative of Nutt’s template for the album. On many of the songs, she places her voice in warm sympathy with the guitar, though making adjustments for some of the varied slants different songs take. Her vocal on the title track ranks among the album’s best.
“Bones” mines similar blues territory, but the touch is much more relaxed and rustic rather than studied. This looser sound and attitude, however, doesn’t denote a lack of depth. The songwriting is quite superb here and Nutt proves herself, as the album goes on, to be one of the more promising lyrical talents emerging from this genre in quite some time. The aforementioned fact makes it all the more endearing that she decides to take on another cover. This time it is a take on the Born in the USA classic “I’m On Fire” from Bruce Springsteen. Her vocal is practically quavering throughout, but her voice rarely rises above a whisper. She doesn’t play it with even the slightest hint of irony. Nutt’s final showcase for her vocal talents, the album’s last song “Dearest”, is an excellent selection to close the album with thanks to a variety of singing styles while remaining in firm conviction of both of them. This Knoxville, Tennessee native isn’t another twang artist performing someone else’s smog, but instead a consummate interpreter with an extraordinary confrontational.
9 out of 10 stars