Zoe Boekbinder “Wildflower”

Are and B Recordings, 2024

Loss and relationship themes in powerfully personal stripped-down arrangements.

Artwork for Zoe Boekbinder album WildflowersThe liner notes for the new release by Zoe Boekbinder state that it was created entirely by women together with Boekbinder who identifies as non-binary. Consequently, gender-neutral pronouns will be used for this review. Boekbinder previously recorded in a duo with their sibling as Vermillion Lies. This is their third solo album, and again according to the publicity, represents quite a change of direction to a more roots-based approach. In any case, it’s a very successful project.

The opening track ‘Cover Up The Moon’ is dominated by lap steel and subtle harmony vocals.  It wouldn’t be out of place on a 1980s Neil Young album. Boekbinder’s voice is very soulful and it’s a strong start, followed by an immediate change of pace to the more rhythm-driven and even better ‘Hold My Hand’. This seems to be about trust, or the lack of it, in a relationship and has an almost 50s feel to it with upfront percussion but again subtle harmonies. The next track is in early Bob Dylan/ Steve Earle territory. The ‘Rest Of His Days’ is a tale about adolescent crime continuing to be punished by the state despite contrition and reconciliation with the victim. A powerful solo track it would also have fitted nicely on a late Johnny Cash album.

Three tracks in and this reviewer is simultaneously wondering where Boekbinder has been all this time and how they are going to keep up the five-star quality.  Unsurprisingly they don’t quite but it’s pretty close. ‘Scared To Mess It Up‘ is another strong track about the insecurity of relationships but ‘Garden’ outstays its welcome with an overreliance on repetitiveness. There are several tracks on the theme of bereavement that are pleasant enough without sustaining the blistering pace of the opening tracks. ‘I Tried To B Good’ is perhaps the first suggestion of a feminist agenda. Another haunting vocal with the theme of domestic abuse it’s another powerful track.

With vocals a little reminiscent of Margo Timmins or Jesse Sykes, and predominant lap steel there is a ghostly feel to a lot of the album, and perhaps it’s no surprise to have a track entitled ‘Supernatural’, again on the theme of bereavement.  ‘No Sunshine No Hurricane‘ returns to the theme of troubled relationships, this time with more emphasis on the group harmonies. ‘Where Time Is Free’ is a pleasant but a little light-weight advocation of the pleasures of rural life. ‘You Won’t Let Me Go’ is again about troubled relationships, another up-tempo song with a strong chorus. The album ends with ‘Sophia’  another song about loss and questioning what happens after death.

Not being familiar with their earlier work it’s not possible to make any comparisons but on the evidence of this very strong album, this would certainly be the way for Boekbinder to go. Highly recommended.

8/10
8/10

About Adrian Dzialdowski 5 Articles
My 1970s LP purchases included Rickie Lee Jones, Steve Forbert and T-Bone Burnett but we didn’t call it Americana then. Hard to believe they are all still currently working. I had a hiatus in the 80s and got into blues and jazz in the 90s. However a chance purchase of an UNCUT sampler in the 2000s has led me to the current golden age of Americana.  
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Alan Peatfield

Shame there isn’t a “sampler” track to accompany the positive review.