The latest spate of female singer/songwriters coming out of Nashville over the last decade , mainstream and indie alike, has scored artistically with a varying degree of success. It is likely that many performers are being placed in less than ideal positions to succeed and, thus, squander their extant talents rather than playing to their strengths. Some are outright mediocrities rising by virtue of beauty and slick presentation. In this crowded field of coulda-beens and pretenders, some voices ring out above the din. Born in Knoxville, Zoe Nutt’s debut album Like You never offers up a slavish imitation of the Volunteer State’s trademark sound, but she captures much of traditional country music’s spirit in these eleven songs. Taste, nuance, and sensitivity are good bywords when discussing this album, but lyricism must be figured in as well. The songs have an elegiac quality underscored by loose-limbed, relaxing backing from her musical collaborators.
“Nothing I Can Do” is an excellent start for the album because it puts the spotlight squarely on Nutt’s voice. The opening seconds is a purely acapella vocal from Nutt that gently brings the listener into the song. When the instrumentation enters, the same gentleness pervades. The musicians create a subtlety shaded soundscape for Nutt’s voice to occupy, but she underlines the mood rather than attempting to shape it. “Antique Soda Pop Love” is another delicately rendered melodic gem that, nevertheless, keeps Nutt’s voice under the lens throughout. There’s a lovely dream-like ambiance to the song that Nutt wisely aligns herself with. The lyrical content ranks among Nutt’s best examples yet of storytelling in song form. She makes a strong move into blues territory on her cover of Justin Townes Earle’s “Look the Other Way” and the result is so radically different from the preceding material that it might catch some listeners off guard. The effect, however, is never unpleasantly jarring. Instead, Nutt takes on this style with supreme confidence and completely avoids any of the clichés that so often drag on post-modern efforts in this genre.
The title cut is, arguably, one of the album’s clearest folky tracks with its moving guitar work and Nutt’s voice winding itself around each melodic figure with artistic precision. The experience of hearing how well these two instruments complement each other on this song is, perhaps, one of the most seamless moments on Like You. “Bones” has a much grittier feel, thanks in no small part to the acoustic slide guitar employed on the track, and Nutt matches the musical attitude with ample gravel and gravitas of her own. “Sweet Tennessee” is the album’s final outright jewel and this pastoral invocation to the wonders of her home state. It’s the sort of subject matter and lyric that has a long tradition in the genre, but as mentioned earlier, Nutt doesn’t spend much time with painstaking recreations of the genre’s past glories. Instead, she refurbishes the tradition for a modern audience while still honoring the spark that prompted its creation. It’s an excellent place to end this review for that reason alone. Nutt isn’t content confining herself to a single musical pose and, instead, regales her audience with a fleet-footed stylistic dexterity few of her peers can match.
9 out of 10 stars.
William Elgin III