Review – Natalie Evans: ‘Houses’

Houses is either the first mini-album or the third EP by Kent based singer songwriter Natalie Evans, depending on how you look at it. Her debut EP, released in 2010, was a straightforward acoustic affair, but her second EP, Demos, was her first collobaration with producer Martin Ruffin. That clearly worked, and three years on, Evans has entrusted her songs to Ruffin for a second time.

‘Wake Up’ fades in with a rolling bass-heavy guitar against a backdrop of birdsong that gives way to the type of aural textures that make the guitar pattern seem like a loop of old film going round and round until the vocal arrives to free it. A short introduction of a song, but packed with enough detail to set the scene and draw the listener in. In fact, you have to stick your head right in to get through the soundscape. It’s a bit like crossing a room full of random, sparkling, oscillating objects that are suspended in the air. In a good way, of course.

‘Butterflies’ is a much more rounded piece of songwriting and arrangement, built around a delicious acoustic guitar (particularly at the end) in which each note played sounds like a fat summer raindrop falling onto the chalk of a piece of pavement art and merging its colours. This soon gets interwoven with violin  (by Rebecca Aimi),  and myriad, idiosyncratically phrased vocal harmonies. There’s something beguiling about the lyrics. “If i was a butterfly, I’d make love happen all the time” seems straightforward and idealistic enough, but there’s a fisherman being caught on camera to give the listener a sense of place and time, like a snapshot taken for reference.

That could be a pun to take us to the third track, ‘Library Days’, but it’s not intended. Here, the guitar figure shimmers beneath what could be a letter or an email written after a chance encounter. The melody itself is very simple, and once again it’s the arrangement of violin, struck strings and drones and the production that colour the song in, on this occasion taking it over completely and carrying the listener to the end of the song.

Just listening to music and watching the world

‘Gymnastics ‘is given more room to breathe and move about, in much the same way as gymnastics come easy to the narrator in a daydream. “When I try in the real world I just land on my optimistic head” she tells us, but here in this song Natalie Evans’ voice stretches as gracefully as she wishes her limbs would in real life.

‘Late Journeys’ opens with a folky guitar pattern that brings to mind early Joni Mitchell or Richard Thompson, and the listener has the impression of the artist relaxing on a coach or train journey next to someone who is so familiar that it’s enough that they are together without the need to communicate, just listening to music and watching the world as they pass through it. Short and simple, and with the feel of the tracks or the tarmac rolling beneath it. Almost perfect, but the handclaps that briefly accompany feel obtrusive.

The closing track ‘Houses’ arrives in a wave of vocal harmonies, fingerpicking, fret squeak, percussion and xylophone. There are elements of unrest in this song and it seems to want to ramble, which it does beautifully until it can never find its house again, thus leaving the whole album gloriously unresolved. It certainly makes one wonder what is coming next.

in summary, the album is, for the most part, made up of lots of very simple, beautiful things. It has a lyrical innocence that complements Natalie Evans’ almost child-like voice and it’s very listenable most of the time. It’s like being in a snow globe, or losing youself in a Super-8 short film. What producer Martin Ruffin brings to the songs is a sense of other-worldliness and texture that works at its best until the song becomes an underlying element of the production rather than the predominant one. There are arguably places where less might have been more, but by and large the production carries the mood and charm of the songs extremely well.

Houses is recommended listening, to keep you warm until the sun eventually comes out. You can download it from www.http://natalieevansmusic.bandcamp.com/album/houses.

Words: Phil Dillon

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