Natalie Spears “Hymn Of Wild Things”

Independent, 2024

Spears’ debut album uses the natural world to beautifully weave together the emotions of love and loss.

artwork for Natalie Spears album "Hymn Of Wild Things"Natalie Spears hails from the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado, where the natural world around her offers a soundtrack of migratory birds and a constant invitation to explore the vast landscape and discover the intimate corners of humanity. Having grown up surrounded by music, Spears learnt numerous instruments before settling on the banjo in her mid twenties and most recently has been preforming and recording as part of a duo with fiddle player and singer Lizzy Plotkin. Together they released their debut album “Just Over The Ridge”, in 2021 to rave reviews from the local folk and bluegrass community. Now, with “Hymn Of Wild Things”, she has struck out on her own with a set of nine songs that combines her love of nature and the natural world, with emotional turmoil of losing a loved one.

Produced by Jayme Stone, who also plays guitar and synths, the album opens with the sound of birds singing before the opening bars of the title track an autumnal evensong that honours the Sandhill Cranes that migrate through her home, the gentle narrative supported by an atmospheric arrangement to create the perfect ambience. Interwoven between tracks inspired by Spears’ local surroundings are a triptych of songs that deal with the passing of her father. The first one ‘He Still Knows’ deals with the onset of Alzheimer’s, the narrative finding solace that he still remembers her name amid the disorientation that comes with memory loss, underpinned by an uplifting melody and arpeggiated notes from the banjo. Elsewhere, ‘How Far’, deals with the waves of grief that wax and wane after her father’s passing. The intro includes her father’s voice as her vocals betray the sense of loss as she sings, “I just wanted more time”, while the final track ‘To Know The Dark’, a poem by Wendall Berry set to music, has a piano intro that grows layers as it traverses through verses to an emotional crescendo that draws favourable comparison to Beth Neilson Chapman’s ‘Sand And Water’, with a similar cathartic impact.

Throughout the album the more reflective numbers are interspersed with songs of varying tempos and topics with the upbeat ‘Homeward’, and its jazzy piano intro and West Coast vibe conjuring up memories of Bonnie Raitt, while ‘One Eyed John’, finds Spears’ feet planted firmly in Bluegrass Country with banjo and fiddle well to the fore. A highlight is ‘Orchards And Dreams’, a journey song that turns eternal self-doubt into fruits of hope, sung a cappella, that draws comparison to Aoife O’Donovan. The 1930’s jazz-inspired ‘Risk It All’, a song about a Louisiana dance floor romance, recorded in New Orleans, complete with trumpet intro has plenty of swing, but feels off kilter with the ambience of the rest of the album, and while the banjo-driven instrumental ‘Last Chance’, is more in keeping with the bulk of the material here, it promises more than it eventually delivers.

Despite barely coming in at over 33 minutes, “Hymn Of Wild Things”, is an album full of promise that highlights Spears’ potential as an evocative singer-songwriter, her ability to emotionally connect with the listener, and convey her passion for those she loves and the world around her. On the back of this debut solo release, Natalie Spears is a name we’re all going to be hearing a lot more of in the coming years.

7/10
7/10

About Graeme Tait 130 Articles
Hi. I'm Graeme, a child of the sixties, eldest of three, born into a Forces family. Keen guitar player since my teens, (amateur level only), I have a wide, eclectic taste in music and an album collection that exceeds 5.000. Currently reside in the beautiful city of Lincoln.
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