Marissa Nadler Songs III: Bird on the Water

[Kemado; 2007]

Styles: indie folk, singer-songwriter
Others: Joanna Newsom, Edith Frost, Meg Baird

Why are Americans (a group that includes me) often so bad at recognizing their own exceptional talents? Is it because America's provincialism fails to provide a proper international context? The French were the ones who properly honored Jerry Lewis. The British funded Woody Allen's latest comeback. The Japanese quickly recognized the importance of American noise. The Germans embraced David Hassel... okay, some people Americans rightly ignore. But oftentimes, it takes an international perspective to gain proper insight on an artist. Such is the case with fair Marissa Nadler.

Wafting in on a lacy breeze of wistful melancholy, Nadler's third album, Songs III: Bird on the Water, has finally found a domestic label, giving us schlubs a chance to catch up to our peers abroad. In keeping with her prior efforts, Songs III is a collection of dark folk tunes presented in stark conditions. One new addition to the fold is Greg Weeks as co-producer, recording engineer, and multi-instrumental accompanist. Although his presence is understated, Weeks, along with a few other contributors, provides nice (and soft) accents that do more to emphasize what's already in each song than to radically alter them.

Nadler's gentle, haunting voice is still bent on singing skeletal tales of failed love -- broken, unrequited, lost, and the like. The subject matter alone might be soul-crushing if it weren't for the elegant poetry she employs in her craft. A testament to this eloquence is the inclusion of a cover of Leonard Cohen's “Famous Blue Raincoat,” blending in seamlessly without appearing even slightly out of place. Further aiding the sublimated devastation is the fingerpicking guitar style that imbues each track with a delicate grace.

If there’s a criticism lurking here, it's that things may be a bit too consistent. Upon repeated listens, I find myself wanting something new to happen, even if it means a song failing miserably rather than a song ascending above the rest. This observation isn't meant to take away from the achievement here. Nadler has honed her sound masterfully, and fans of the current resurgence of folk music in the indie community would be doing themselves a disservice not to seek out Songs III. However, for an artist with copious skill and promise, I can't help but hope for some more boldness and experimentation in the future.

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