You don’t need to follow Nadia Reid’s movements since the success of 2017’s Preservation to know how far she’s ranged across the globe - you only need to listen to her follow-up album, Out of My Province. It’s an album about travel, and the physical and emotional distance it creates between people, as well as the clarity it can bring.
Reid starts us off in her native Aotearoa, from the album’s very first line, “You took me to Levin”, and in the closing line of that same song transports us from Wellington’s Riddiford Street to London’s Stansted Airport. Later, she describes her state of mind in Italy and Spain and longs to visit Canada. But when she sings “I am lonely for you in Norway/I am lonely for you in Spain”, she reveals the album’s core concern, the way your feelings follow you across borders.
On first listen, Out of My Province doesn’t have the distinct stand-out peaks that Preservation did - in fact, the songs here blend into one another even more than her first two albums. But there are a few features across its whole length that for me make it a better and more enjoyable listen than its predecessor; primarily, the production and arrangements. While Preservation at times felt dulled by its washes of atmosphere and electric guitars, the production this time around is beautifully clean. Her always-wonderful voice sounds better than ever, and it helps that even when the music is upbeat and energetic, Reid tends to sing in an understated manner, letting her voice sit cool and distinct from everything else.
This could be explained by a major change in recording location, with Reid forfeiting Lyttleton where she had previously recorded and heading to the legendary Spacebomb studios in Richmond, Virginia. As well as being recorded in the studios and released on the Spacebomb label, the album is played by Spacebomb house musicians. Thankfully, Reid keeps on her longtime guitarist Sam Taylor though, whose shimmering electric has always done so much for her songs, even though he takes a more traditional background role in the mix than previously.
The Spacebomb team invited Reid after catching her live in the UK, and it’s clear from the differences to her previous albums how much they believed in making this great. Producer Trey Pollard arranges string and horn sections that swell behind the songs at chosen moments, adding a lot of power and colour to the otherwise familiar folk-pop palette. They’re right there in the gorgeous hymn-like opener All Of My Love, first strings filling up the sparse plod of the drums, then later some deep brass adding some muscle.
The second track High & Lonely is also a highlight, with a slightly crunchier country-ish strum than the other songs. Reid’s delivery is wonderful, gentle and intimate even when the brass section swells grandiosely behind the (dare-I-say-it) uplifting chorus. I love the way she sings the “Come and get it” that ends some phrases.
However, when Reid raises the tempo, the songs seem to feel blander (as is true on her previous releases), and Out Of My Province is her most upbeat album yet. Oh Canada might be the album’s thematically defining track, as she drops place names left and right and paints a vivid image of long-distance communication and travel, but the driving beat and sunny jangling strumming washes past the ear into a background “vibe”. The same can be said of the forgettable Other Side Of The Wheel, and The Future with its plain “I was waiting for you” chorus.
It doesn’t help that, as on her previous album, Reid doesn’t bother to venture beyond the same three or four chords in every song, and is equally hesitant to stray from her patiently spaced vocal phrasings and recycled melodies. Most of the vocals on these songs could be fit to any of the instrumentals. This does have the possibly desired effect of planting primary attention on the lyrics, which is by no means a bad thing most of the time, but the lack of musical intrigue does end up holding the album back.
Mid-album highlight Best Thing sticks out for breaking some of the album’s musical moulds, with a scratchy acoustic guitar, an unexpectedly busy bass hook in the chorus, and then at the end the only truly surprising moment on the album - in comes a drum kit played with actual rawness, crashing lo-fi cymbals exploding from one speaker like an old garage recording, and then a soaring string section. The absolutely gorgeous Heart To Ride is equally wonderful in a different way, becoming Reid’s most affecting ballad to date. Her acoustic picking is lifted to the heavens by a lovely string section, while her vocals stay grounded and gentle, singing across the oceans to a distant lover with a gorgeous melody. “I’ve been thinking that I would like to roll with you/Maybe big drinking, I would like to grow with you/Who knew that love could feel this golden/Coming into season”.
The album’s second half is a little weaker, with I Don’t Wanna Take Anything From You, Who Is Protecting Me and closer Get The Devil Out sounding like solid but typical Nadia Reid tunes. Who Is Protecting Me explores aloneness and vulnerability due to distance but also the promise of stability and safety with a special someone - parts of it seem to reference the fact Reid recently got married. Get The Devil Out is an effective closer - over a sparse picked electric guitar, Reid’s close-up voice sums up the core themes and messages of almost all her songs - “I’m making friends with who I used to be...I am only one woman...I tried to find religion/I am right as I am”. It’s nice to hear her conclude the collection sounding settled and sure of herself, even in a melancholy way. Her lyrical style on the album treads the same ground as her previous work, which is no negative thing, as she sounds at home weaving statements on feelings of love and loneliness, self-doubt and eventual acceptance, often by giving us little impressionistic snapshots of interactions and conversations with people or the addressed “You”.
Out of My Province is Nadia Reid’s strongest album yet in a few specific dimensions - the production, the arrangements, the vocals. Most importantly, it has a few of her greatest songs on it, gems like Heart To Ride, All Of My Love, High & Lonely and Best Thing. The other songs that don’t make it to the same level tend to wash past the ears in an easy-to-listen and hard-to-differentiate kind of way, but their inoffensiveness doesn't turn the experience to a negative one. By the end of the album, I certainly feel Nadia has succeeded at painting a clear portrait of her state of mind through repeated emotional motifs, whether I liked every moment or not. Worth a listen.
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Released: 06 Mar 2020