Nadia Reid review – soft but tensile songs from the south

Bush Hall, London
The rising New Zealand folk artist’s spare sound has an arresting impact, and deserves wider exposure

Emerging singer-songwriter Nadia Reid looks out from the covers of both of her albums with forthrightness. Wearing generous, owlish glasses, the New Zealander’s black-and-white gaze goes over to the left on 2015’s precocious Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs. Then she stares the listener down in full colour (this year’s Preservation); shorthand for Reid’s snowballing musical confidence. You would hate to do any artist down by lumping them with others on spurious grounds, but Reid is part of an impressive cadre of southern-hemisphere writers who have recently blazed a northerly trail – acts as wildly different as Melbourne’s sing-talking Courtney Barnett, or Reid’s fellow New Zealander, the more dramatic Aldous Harding.

Cover-judgers should be aware that Reid’s two rich, immersive records don’t quite conform to type. Waiting for her to come on tonight, her audience are quite comfortable sitting on the floor, in the folk idiom. But there isn’t much that is fragile about Reid, an understated, wise guide through uncertain territory.

Accompanying herself on acoustic and semi-acoustic guitars, she drums the body of her acoustic with her fingers for extra reverb: that’s as showy as she gets. Guitarist Sam Taylor plays electric-guitar counterpoint, using the tremolo arm as a stand-in for the sound of pedal steel, or adding a thrum of electronics at key moments.

When it comes, on Seasons Change, the set-opener, Reid’s felted-wool voice is soft but tensile. Her songs are either oblique, or tight, and parsimonious. It keeps you listening. “Nothing better than moving on and pushing through,” she counsels, almost off-hand, on the climax of the comforting I Come Home to You. The guitars, meanwhile, are louder than you’d think, and the subjects sometimes darker than forecast. There is a sink full of blood and teeth on Richard, a country-tinged character study off her most recent album. Saved for the end, The Arrow and the AimPreservation’s lead single, and probably Reid’s greatest hit – is one of her more elliptical songs, a sombre meditation about ending love that just begs for an indie-film sync to spread its reverberating power further.

Reid is deadpan, and obliging with context. First she checks to see whether anyone saw her in London in February. “There are a few Nadia Reid virgins,” she notes. “I need to know whether I can say the same shit again.”

Watch Nadia Reid’s video for Preservation.

Satisfied, she launches into the preamble to Reach My Destination, another of her finest songs. Of moving to Wellington after a breakup, Reid confides that “nothing hammers home your singledom more than a single bed in your mother’s house.” Reach My Destination resonates in its simplicity – and its surprises. There’s one road that goes through town, two directions in which to go. There are also “two little words that I used”, Reid sings. “One was ‘fuck’, the other was ‘you’.” The f-bomb detonates quietly, with all the more seismic effect.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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