Heather Little “By Now”

Need To Know Music, 2024

Confessional words and a fine supporting cast make for one of the best country-based albums you’ll hear this year.

Kicking in with a Ry Cooder style slide from Audley Freed and a gently plucked banjo Heather Little’s ‘Five Deer County’  is a tale of hunting and a bitter break up, with one line that sets it apart from the many other similar songs: “I ain’t no ball and chain, I’d rather give him back his name, and let him have all he’s ever dreamed”, which has to be one of the best views from the woman’s side of the story that I’ve heard.

A theme develops quickly. ‘Hands Like Mine’ talks of getting married too young and too ignorant. The Accordion gives it a slightly Cowboy Junkies feel. It is a duet with Patty Griffin, a singer who Little has been compared to at times, so the chance to compare is interesting. Both of them operate in the same sort of quietly emotional territory, but Little is very much her own singer.

Most songs feature a guest singer. On the sublime Cello feature ‘Razor Wire’ it’s Leslie Satcher. On ‘Better By Now’ it’s Bluegrass singer Ronnie Bowman. That last song is a good example of Little’s lyrics as catharsis approach to songwriting, taking Maya Angelou’s “…when you know better, do better” as a starting point.

Her publicity features the phrase “a songwriter’s songwriter” extensively. Her songs have been recorded by some of the leading names in country music, and she has two BMI awards for songwriting, which suggests that on this occasion it may be true. The comparison that sticks out in the inevitable list from the PR is Rickie Lee Jones. While their voices aren’t alike, their approach to songwriting seems to be.

The album closes with a song written with and recorded by Miranda Lambert. Here ‘Gunpowder & Lead’ has a verse unrecorded elsewhere. Little says, “I had parts of the verse to start with, and she came over and came up with the first line of the chorus, and we basically went line for line for the rest of the chorus and the verse.” Of her new verse she says that “I scribbled on the back of a Walmart receipt what I thought of as the “second verse””. While you can sense Lambert’s style in the chorus, this version with just Heather Little on acoustic guitar and Van Plating on violin and both of them sharing vocals is far more emotionally charged than her co-writer’s attempt.

This Life Without You’ brings Patty Griffin back for the current pick of the songs on the album. The singing over a simple guitar and bass backing is as good as you will find in country-flavoured music this year. Their voices complement each other ideally. An album of duets between Little and Grifin would not be amiss.

With mainstream country music mired in commerciality and blandness, this is where you will find its soul in 2024.

8/10
8/10

About Tim Martin 247 Articles
Sat in my shed listening to music, and writing about some of it. Occasionally allowed out to attend gigs.
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Alan Peatfield

This is absolutely gorgeous. What a find. Muchos gracias, Tim.