Album Review: Heather Nova – South (2001)

Heather Nova’s fourth full length studio album “South” is another collection of superbly written, sung and arranged songs from an artist that surely deserves a wider audience. Maybe that was the record companies way of thinking too as this set is much lighter, poppier and subsequently more accessable than her earlier offerings. However, dont be forced into thinking Heather Nova is some airhead who was forced by a record company. This, according to interviews she did at the time, was all her own idea and was due mainly to going through a phase of listening to a lot of old school soul and R & B most notably Al Green and Marvin Gaye. The influences on the album are easy to spot. In fact the only gripe Nova had with the record company was their insistence on releasing ‘I’m No Angel’ as the first single. Totally different in sound to the rest of the album it did little to prepare the listener for the album that was to follow.

Recorded mostly in California “South” once again features a strong cast of supporting musicians including Peter Kvint, David Ayers, Berit Fridahl, Marc Goldenberg and Corky James on guitars, Bernard Butler from Suede on guitar and Rhodes piano, The London Session Orchestra providing strings, Bastian Juel piano and bass, Jason Mayo Wurlitzer piano, Glenn Scott Hammond B-3 organ, Eve Nelson keyboards, Andreas Dahlback and Laurie Jenkins drums and Davy Faragher also returns from the previous album to provide some bass.

The lighter sound is evident straight away with opening track ‘If I Saw You In A Movie’. The opening line of ‘Got an email from you today’ giving the track a very here and now modern day feel which works nicely with the sixties like feel of the intro. It is a very infectious song with a lovely acoustic riff and a slightly low-fi production on the vocal during the verse. Nova uses her ability to sing very high to great effect during the chorus. It is a classic pop song that should have given her a big hit. ‘Talk To Me’ slows the pace a little and is more in keeping with her earlier material. The B-3 Hammond of Glenn Scott drives the song along nicely. ‘Virus of the Mind’ is almost delivered in spoken word throughout the verse but the chorus is very poppy and almost sixties doo wop. Lyrically it deals with Nova’s spurning of material possesions (she was brought up on a boat, and likes the simple things in life). Another very catchy track that should have fared better as a single. ‘Like Lovers Do’ takes us back to the earlier Nova sound once again. Albeit with a little more polish than on earlier albums. The quality doesn’t drop with ‘Waste The Day’ which features another quirky poppy melody that stays with you long after the track has finished. It was Nova’s preferred choice as lead off single. ‘Heaven Sent’ starts off as more of a rock like track with a distinctive guitar riff and rocky drum beat before the melody and chorus veer it back into a more pop sound. ‘Its Only Love’ is another track that wouldn’t have been out of place on “Siren” and features a trademark dreamy Nova vocal and melody.

The crashing guitar pop of ‘I’m No Angel’ sits a little uneasily on the album for some although personally I think it fits far better than the cover of ‘Gloomy Sunday’ later on. It is the only track on the album, bar the aforementioned cover, which is not written by Nova alone being a co-write with Suede’s Bernard Butler who also provides the guitar and Rhodes piano parts. ‘Help Me Be Good To You’ is another dreamy Nova composition of which you can never tire and emphasises her addictive vocal style. Again the Hammond B-3 adds to the atmospheric of the song and a tasteful guitar solo from David Ayers tops things off nicely. Things quicken up again for another acoustic guitar driven pop song in ‘When Somebody Turns You On’. The chorus provides yet another great hook on an album that just seems to be full of them. For me the low point on the album is ‘Gloomy Sunday’, originally recorded only for inclusion on the soundtrack of the German World War II film “Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod” it has a distinctly different sound and feel to the rest of the album. Vocally the performance is fine but the backing is far too electronica trip-hop to sit comfortably here for me. ‘Tested’ is a solo Nova performance on vocal and acoustic guitar and is beautiful in its simplicity. Album closer ‘Just Been Born’ will undoubtedly be the favourite track of fans of Nova’s earlier albums. Full of deep, dark, sexual tension fuelled lyrically imagery it is classic early Nova and leaves you in no doubt that despite all the poppy hooks the cutting edge angst ridden Heather Nova is still very much alive.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM February 2011

About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
This entry was posted in Album Reviews, Music, Music Reviews, Pop, Rock, Singer/Songwriter and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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