Zoe Nutt – Like You
Zoe Nutt – Like You
Zoe Nutt defies tidy categorization. The Knoxville native’s debut full length is a lot of various things wrapped up with an Americana bow, but even that slightly florid description doesn’t do the material justice. The eleven songs on the album remain centered throughout on a central template, but the sturdy template is flexible enough that it allows Nutt a chance to explore a variety of shadings without ever foregoing her traditional strengths. It’s a delicate balancing act but she pulls it off without even a hint of uncertainty. Such confidence is typically the stock-in-trade of much more veteran performers, but Nutt’s artistic vision is impressively complete even when measured against longer serving artists. The production obviously highlights Nutt’s vocal and songwriter skills, but it likewise affords a significant spotlight on the work of her backing band and they are as loaded with taste and they are talent.
She lulls listeners into the album with the first song “Nothing I Can Do”. Much of Like You is concerned with relationship matters, particularly those that have crashed into the side of the mountain, and the opener is certainly among those tracks. Nutt’s narrator is helplessly crushed under the weight of her longing and doesn’t see any apparent way out of it. It’s subject matter ripped straight from Pop Songwriting 101, but the traditions extend back further than that. It also falls well within the wheelhouse of traditional American music, particularly blues, and Nutt captures a lot of that feeling in her voice. “Antique Soda Pop Love” is very similar, in some regards, but has a slightly more artistic slant than the first song. The musical backing is like ambulatory sculpture – every part is remarkably defined and works in concert with other competing and equally clear parts in order to form a more remarkable whole. The music feels quite natural, never too plotted out, and wafts past the listener like sensory input in dreams.
“Look the Other Way” is one of the album’s most delicious stylistic turns. Nutt completely immerses herself in the blues and turns in one of the album’s best performances based on style alone. This cover of a Justin Townes Earle gem is a highlight on the album and could draw attention to the release as a whole based on its quality alone. “Like You”, the album’s title song, is one of the sturdiest marriages of acoustic guitar and voice heard yet on the release. The lyrics are a particularly affecting meditation on inheritance – Nutt is reflecting on what she might say to her yet unborn children about the challenges that their future mother has faced and how those trials might affect them. “Stay” has a better balance between the musical backing and Nutt’s vocal than many other tracks on Like You, but a further distinguishing quality is the lyrical excellence that makes new wine from a series of vintage tropes and clichés. A final exquisite moment on an album brimming over with such occasions comes with the song “Sweet Tennessee”, a warm and lush love letter from Nutt to her home state. Like You is full of such wonders that only one small complaint, the lack of any uptempo song, weighs on the release in any significant way. Otherwise, Zoe Nutt couldn’t have asked for a more impactful debut release and the hard work producing such quality is evident in every song.
8 out of 10 stars.