Zoë Nutt delivers understated gravitas and grit on her sophomore album, How Does it Feel, a project that the singer describes as an intimate introductory conversation between herself and her listeners.
“I think I have a better way with words in songs,” Nutt told her hometown paper, the Knoxville News Sentinel, earlier this summer. “To me, songs have always felt like an introduction. It’s like I’m saying, ‘Hi, my name is Zoë. It’s nice to meet you. This is how I feel now.’”
Often, this album creates a juxtaposition between breathless, Taylor Swift-esque melodies and a much more sobering lyrical message. In the ebullient single “Happy,” Nutt sees through an ex’s bubbly post-breakup facade with a thousand-yard stare. “All that time talkin’ ’bout your dreams,” she quips. “Do you still dream about anything?”
The project also proves Nutt’s range: She slips effortlessly between classic country heartache gold in “Come Over,” flirty, bluesy pop in “Ooo Eee,” and self-reflective folk ballad on “Too Fast,” which is a duet with Brandy Clark.
Clark isn’t the only big name to add some extra magic to How Does it Feel: Nutt also enlisted Jaren Johnston and Neil Mason of country-rock outfit The Cadillac Three to guest star on her album.
Nutt may still be in the process of introducing herself to her listeners — and, at age 27, her career is still in its relatively early stages — but her songwriting has a resilience and self-assuredness that makes How Does it Feel all the more satisfying. Those qualities come thanks in part to the challenges she faced as she was making it.
The singer had to break from the recording process halfway through in order to undergo cochlear implant surgery. Nutt had struggled with hearing loss from an early age, but over a two-year period in adulthood, she began to have progressively worsening episodes of near-total deafness. Fortunately, the surgery offered her marked improvement, allowing her to complete her album and release How Does it Feel about a year later.
The only place on the album where Nutt addresses her hearing loss head-on is in the last track, “Like You.” It’s a reimagined version of a song that’s actually a few years old, and was the title track of the singer’s 2016 debut. In the song, Nutt addresses her future children, whose voice she knows she may never be able to hear.
“But I can’t wait to watch your lips speak wonders,” she intones in the first verse, “because no one will ever sound like you.”
The song offers gratitude for the present moment, as well as a warm acceptance of an unknowable future. Achieving either is no small feat, but Nutt makes it look easy.