One of the real miracles heard on Zoe Nutt’s debut Like You is how natural it plays despite the obvious effort taken with its construction. The eleven song release has impressive consistency and takes a similar fundamental approach to many entries while never being afraid to shake things up some at key points. It is primarily a country/Americana affair, but it doesn’t swear allegiance to new Nashville tropes or exclusively retro concerns. Instead, it hits on an ideal balance between those two modes while further enlivening the compositions with the distinctive stamp of a singer/songwriter intent on uncovering something of herself and life through the writing, recording, and performing of this material. It is a top flight professional recording in every way thanks to the presence of some Music City heavy hitters behind the board and even makes great use of covers by choosing two superb songs that fans might not immediately associate her with.
First, however, listeners meet the real Zoe Nutt. Songs like the opener “Nothing I Can Do” and the third song “Antique Soda Pop Love” show her to have a perfect voice and lyrics for lightly rustic, carefully miked band performances that never lean too hard on singer or song while still give it just a slight urgent lift to help it reach an conclusion. She’s unafraid to deal with blues music on songs like Justin Townes Earle’s “Look the Other Way” and the other side of that particular coin, the acoustic blues heard in “Bones”. The earlier song has a less personal cast and this allows Nutt to display more of the technique that enriches her closer to the bone narratives. The latter tune, however, is much more raw, less elegant, and sounds like she’s dredged it up from her bones without ever falling into the histrionics that plague so many when they turn their hands towards this genre.
The album’s title song sets the mold for some later songs on the album’s second half, but the listener’s first introduction to the track may feel like the first fully balanced union of voice, lyric, and music yet on the release. Nutt’s voice is full of emotion in every syllable, but she never allows her dramatic wont to overwhelm the careful dance between guitar and voice. She covers Bruce Springsteen’s minor Born in the USA hit “I’m On Fire”, but dispenses with its eighties’ trappings in favor of a carefully rendered acoustic soundscape that allows her voice a larger share of the attention. “Sweet Tennessee” is very much in the mold of the album’s title song and clearly has personal weight that enhances the song’s deep musicality. Like You’s final song “Dearest” is keeping with the theme of earlier performances, but the musical arrangement is much fuller and widely realized than earlier efforts. It serves as an exclamation point of sorts for the release and brings things full circle in a very satisfying way.
9 out of 10 stars.
David Shouse. Edited by Scottie Carlito