by Paddy Kinsella
From Central Texas, Natalie Jane Hill actually wrote her forthcoming record, Azalea, in the region of Appalachia – the folk heartland that birthed Jean Ritchie, Roscoe Holcomb and Doc Watson. While debut single, Emerald Blue, premiered on GoldFlakePaint, was framed by urgent, undulating picks of the guitar, its follow up, Usnea, sees her wield perhaps the most distinctive instrument of that era – the banjo.
Hill’s voice is like a breeze through the trees – each gust driving an alternative landscape down until it sprawls out in front of you, the plains, the young spring light, the clapping of hooves materialising in high definition. She’s a painter, a griot, a folklorist in the truest sense.
On Usnea, we meet a couple desiring to return to the quiet, and she brushes with strokes so vivid that the longing in their eyes haunts well beyond the runtime. ‘And in full force / spring moves forth / as we move forward / reborn again,’ she concludes in the mesmerising chorus. Or so we think, as like all the best storytellers, she changes the wind movement, alters the glide, the clang deafening as she sings, ‘I wouldn’t have known it then’. That what, that question, that ambiguity, forcing you to bend backwards for a resolution. The answer may lie within. The Appalachian seed ripens.
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