Natalie Jane Hill “Solely”

Dear Life Records, 2021

Natalie Jane Hill moves into a rarefied folk echelon, and more than justifies her place there.

Album Artwork, Photo by Julian Neel

On her second album Natalie Jane Hill provides an eloquent statement of what “less is more” really means, bringing her eloquently poetic songs to life with delicate finger-picked guitar and just the slightest of Nick Drake-esque touches of violins and cellos and gentle piano accompaniment.  And doing it not just in an uncluttered way but also with an admirable dedication to keeping it brief – if a song needs just over two minutes then that is what it gets, everything is there and nothing extraneous, no padding out a song to four minutes with a repeated chorus or an intrusive solo.  There’s such beauty in this simplicity.  And then as the ethereal cherry on this lightest of musical sponges there is Natalie Jane Hill’s voice which is pure and honest and strong in the rare way of a Karen Dalton or an Anne Briggs, a compliment not lightly or casually given.  Listening to Natalie Jane Hill is not like listening to someone singing, it’s like listening to a person presenting their inner most self, the core of their being.  And that is more than rare.

And what do the songs concern themselves with?  Life, life from all sorts of different viewpoints.  A song like ‘Little Teeth‘ is a poetic capturing of the sight of birds diving into the sea, searching for their nourishment.  It is that, the image is so clear, as Hill sings of “the pearly white birds are falling from the sky / shaped like little teeth / in the water floating by” but it’s also a reflection on a reflective state of mind, looking over endlessly moving water and talking of intertwined lives and deciding that maybe “this time I would stay to see it through.”  Not, you’ll note, to just stay, or to love forever but a melancholic decision to stay for now knowing that this will end with the promise of future sadness.  A more hopeful outlook is provided by ‘If I were a Willow‘ which proffers the folk-trick of comparing moods to objects or events – “if I were a willow I would sway with every breeze keep you shaded from the heat” or “If I were an evening filled with wine and company or solitude and tea would you like to stay with me?”  There is, though, still a tentativeness, not the confidence of one who knows already what the answer will be to that repeated hanging question.  This is an offer not made lightly, and there’s a price to be paid from rejection – no light love affairs here.

To Feel Alone‘ captures solitude with Natalie Jane Hill singing of the various sounds that make their way into a house that is one person short of being empty – and then giving half the song up to a wordless coda that mirrors those sounds, and the title track which follows right along builds on that mood, taking possession of solitude and making it “ok to feel lonely , it’s true that I know it well” whilst still acknowledging the dangers of relying solely on solitude whilst still backing away from endless companionship “it’s ok to want something  that gives you endless joy / but if thrive from that only you might forget how to find it on your own.”

This is not an album of broken hearts, it’s an album of continual learning how to live, of observing nature – as on ‘Orb Weaver‘ and ‘Plants and Flowers‘ – and then making a connection to the self.   And that’s lovely, of course, but it the whole of the album, the completeness that the ten songs give in the ways that they compliment each other and Natalie Jane Hill’s underlying refusal to shy away from pain that make ‘Solely‘ a truly fine, satisfying and thought provoking album.  And, finally, an album that should be heard.


About Jonathan Aird 2774 Articles
Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?
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