Better Late Than Never: Tara Nevins – Wood and Stone
by Cat Johnson
Although I’m a few months behind the curve on Wood and Stone, I’m finding that it’s one of those slow-burning gems that I repeatedly pick out of the stack of cds on my desk, so I thought I’d write it up.
As a member of the long-running band Donna the Buffalo, Tara Nevins has made a name for herself as a talented songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and performer. So how is it that I haven’t heard all that much about her? I was questioning my standing as a music-nerd when I read that Donna the Buffalo tours primarily in the Midwest and on the East Coast. That made me feel slightly better, but not much. Even way out here on the West Coast, Nevins is an artist who is definitely worth knowing about.
Wood and Stone, which is Nevins’s second solo release, is a foot-stomping, down-home collection of songs that is polished enough to handle repeat listens, but sparse enough to bare the grit and emotional weight that I love about roots music.
When I was a girl, I asked an older musician friend what the difference between a fiddle and a violin was and she responded, “It’s all in the playin’, honey.” I’ve never forgotten her answer and one of the first thoughts I had about Wood and Stone was that Nevins is a fiddle gal, through and through. Her pulls are soulful, raw, rich and true.
Imagine my surprise then, to find that Nevins is a classically-trained musician! Well, that may be where she started, and she certainly has a high musical IQ, but this is a woman who jumped on the roots train years ago, and hasn’t looked back.
The first song on the album is the title track and it sets the tone with a deep, rootsy groove, a magnetic melody and minimal, perfectly-placed instrumentation. It grabs your attention, invites you to listen and reveals more lyrical gems with each spin. In fact, that’s what I like most about this album; it catches you immediately with it contagious and totally danceable melodies, and then keeps you coming back with its understated insights and little tidbits of truth.
Written during a tumultuous personal time, Wood and Stone is a heartfelt offering that provides a glimpse into the inner-workings of a woman in transition. As she sings in “All I Ever Needed,” Learning it the hard way/Learning that the heart does break/Living is the only way you’ll learn just what the heart can take.
Other highlights include the country jam, “You’re Still Driving that Truck;” the fiddle-driven, instrumental get-down “Nothing Really” on which Nevins lets loose with the bow and gets all Johnny-vs.-the-devil on the strings; the classic-country-radio inspired “The Wrong Side” with its straight-talking take on broken vows and a lonely heart; and a version of “Stars Fell on Alabama” that is now among my favorites. She has rearranged the tune magnificently and rekindled the spirit of the song.
Wood and Stone is full of great tunes, each one catchy and interesting in its own way. And any album that is produced by Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm etc.), recorded at Levon Helm Studios and features Helm, Alison Moorer and Jim Lauderdale, has a pretty good chance of being very good, and Wood and Stone is.