In 2011, burned out after releasing four albums and constant touring, unable to write and drained of creative energy, the Californian singer-songwriter Gina Villalobos took a break from making music and enrolled in a music programme to try and restore the hunger to her impulse.
Two years ago she found herself ready to re-enter the arena and began work on what would become this, her fifth album ‘Sola’.
Although there’s some inevitable lyrical references (veiled and more direct) to her experiences and exposed vulnerability (on Wandering By she sings ‘figure it out, figure it out and I’ll run my luck as fast as I can”), but there’s no hint of any dent in her confidence or ability to turn out the sort of muscular alt-country rock that’s seen her likened to Petty, Crow and Williams.
With a gritty, sand-gargling voice that makes Bonnie Tyler sound like Regina Spektor, Villalobos can deliver punch and caress with equal aplomb, but it’s the latter than dominates here. The album opens in aching ballad form with twangy electric and steel guitar backgrounding the tumbling chords of Everything I Want, the mood sustained by the slow building widescreen Taillights and heartbreak two-step Come Undone (Interstate Ache).
However, while these may be mid-tempo ballads, there’s no lack of power in the delivery, either of the vocals or by the assembled musicians, something firmly underlined by the slow burn intensity of Hold On To Rockets, a song about how we sabotage ourselves that understands that being loud isn’t necessarily all about volume.
Disappointingly, the creative reinvigoration has only yielded seven tracks, the album closing up with the weary ache of Tears Gone By and, finally upping the pace, the relatively sprightly, pedal steel backed Walk Away, but now that she’s back in the saddle hopefully this is just a preliminary canter.
Review by: Mike Davies
Self Released, out now