Wide-eyed, studio-shiny, country-folk albums are fairly commonplace. Genuine, irony-free ones that treat the genre with the respect it deserves without being in thrall its formulaic side are much rarer. Albums like this made by Australians in Bristol are, I think it’s fair to say, pretty much non-existent.
Non-existent, that is, until now. Nuala Honan has nailed it with The Tortoise. It is rare to hear a debut album as mature-sounding as this. At first listen, Honan sits firmly on the country side of the fence, but the material is only country in the same way that Sandy Denny’s songs were folk. The genre acts as a platform for the songwriting. All the right musical boxes are ticked, but more important is the innate lightness of touch that can create tender ballads one moment and playful, fiddle-led hoedowns the next (Needle and Thread, like an upbeat Emmylou Harris, is a good example of the latter). All the while Honan keeps it fresh with lyrics that update the archetypal concerns of love and loss with subtle contemporary references.
The songs are saturated with authentic Nashville appeal, and are stunningly produced – a testament to the very promising Woodshed recording studio – and every instrument has its place, from the drums that permeate folky lover’s complaint 16 Stones to the extended fiddle break in Please Don’t Raise Your Voice.
Honan has been compared to Gillian Welch and on All Is Not Lost – a great country ballad with a simply massive chorus – she hits similar heights, albeit from a slightly poppier angle. The arrangements are pretty much always spot on – Honan has the ability to make a three and a half minute song sound like a suite. The denouement of Ruined It All, for instance, will break hearts.
The Tortoise is a mightily impressive first release, full of sadness and surprise, and introduces a spirited new voice. Despite the melancholy, good times beckon for Nuala Honan.
Review by: Thomas Blake
LONDON ALBUM LAUNCH
Thurs 16th May, THE HARRISON
Nuala Honan+ Special Guests TBA
28 Harrison Street,
London WC1h 8JF
BRISTOL ALBUM LAUNCH
Weds 22nd May, FIDDLERS
with Rozi Plain, Wilf Merttens, Lori Campbell
+ DJ’s Mon & Ben til 1am
£7 +bf Adv. / £9 door
8pm doors with 8.15 start