It’s Sunday morning, wipe the sleep from eyes, have a good stretch, put the coffee on and while it’s percolating and you suddenly have the dawning realisation that the clocks went back and you have an extra hour today, use it to reach for Natalie Jane Hill’s new album Solely. Hill is a Central Texas native who weaves her voice and guitar playing like ivy winds around trellis, and she has been developing her exemplary guitar playing in Blue Ridge Mountains for years.
Taking each element separately, Hill’s voice is clear and true with a hint of smoke and a natural tremolo that is never overdone. Whether it is low and sonorous or soaring high, it has a strength and purity that put it up there with the great voices of folk/country-roots music such as Joni Mitchell, Tim Buckley, or Gillian Welch. It is rarely treated with effects, maybe a dusting of reverb or the merest hint of Slapback on a track like ‘Pretty View’. This is a voice that needs no adornment. Her guitar skills are outstanding, whether ringing with the quality of a harp on ‘Euphoria’ or bubbling and rolling like the Nick Drake-feel of title track ‘Solely’. Alternate tunings allow the guitar to offer the depth of a drop D on ‘If I Were A Willow’, or effervesce with high cascading notes on ‘Orb Weaver’ (see video below). But separating the two elements of voice and guitar is only to appreciate the technicality and quality of each, and is unimportant in comparison to the effect you get from hearing them together. The unity between the two seems to come as easily to Hill as interlacing your fingers is for us, and it’s what makes this album so compelling to listen to.
Unlike Hill’s first album Azalea, which was a solo affair, Solely draws sparingly on other musicians with beautifully placed accompaniment from Vibraphone and Autoharp (Jason Chronis) and, with a track like ‘Orb Weaver’, washes of steel guitar (Mat Davidson and Bob Hoffnar) and cello (Sadie Wolfe). Lyrically, Hill can draw on allusion or painful honesty. Of ‘Orb Weaver’ Hill says it’s “…a song about comparing myself to the hidden intricacies that I might find on a walk in the woods…Sometimes there is a comfort to the natural world and other times there is a harshness. My experiences can almost mirror them. I’d like to think that nature has a way of telling us exactly what we need to hear” and of ‘Plants and Flowers That Do Not Grow Here’ “It’s about trying to navigate through a time of addiction while in a disassociated state. I had spent some time trying to distinguish reality from illusion, and I wanted this song to capture the dreamlike quality I was lost in“
As with contemporaries such as Bedouine, Nadia Reid or Aldous Harding, folk, Americana, or whatever sobriquet you wish to apply, is in great hands. Solely is resolute, hypnotic, full of grace and beauty, tinged with melancholy but above all it transmutes self-reflection and vulnerability into gold.
Review by Paul F Cook