By AVA LIVERSIDGE
Cristina Vane is on a trek to reclaim her American heritage and she’s searched high-and-low, taking Southern music traditions and sprinkling them across the country: Bars, coffee shops, and backyards. Vane is taking in the pedestrian and churning out introspection.
Nowhere Sounds Lovely, her debut record, is a subtle showcase of her many stops across the country, documented by a lifelong nomad. Her multicultural upbringing — England, France, Italy, and, now, America — make for a peculiar sound that embraces all of those characteristically Southern sonics enmeshed with a component of slight dissociation. This inherent distance from, specifically, Nashville’s pervasive sound, is what enables Vane to compose a body of work just as much inwardly meditative as it is an ode to the geography she’s surrounded herself with.
Nowhere Sounds Lovely is a debut fueled, rightfully, by self-questioning, and not by the definitive certainty in sound or self that is often feigned in fruitless hopes of projecting security. Vane basks in the discomfort of the unknown. This record came to fruition over an eight-month tour across America, a trip that forced Vane to examine her identity from a unique pan-national perspective. It is striking how down-right American- as American as any album whose main inspirations are cited as Robert Johnson and Skip James – Nowhere Sounds Lovely is able to sound without surrendering to myopia. Vane is able to balance the banjo, dobro, pedal-steel sonics with sincere scrutiny and lyrical introversion alongside the emotive quality of her vocals, successfully tempering what may otherwise be a somewhat severe display of roots music.
The singer-songwriter’s strong narrative voice is omnipresent throughout the record, often reading somewhat like prose with accompanying instrumentals. Her explicit storytelling is a definitive embrace of the techniques championed by her influences (Blind Willie Johnson, Robert Johnson) and the blues custom in general. While she aptly played both banjo and guitar throughout the record, the instrumentals, like in the greater roots tradition, generally come second to the story at hand. What risks being lost from lesser instrumental dynamism is made up for in Vane’s voice, used much as an instrument itself- ranging from agile lilting to more ghostly qualities in accordance with subject matter. In essence, Vane’s not being ostentatious about using a steel guitar on a contemporary album- though this may be an increasingly obsolete ambition, Vane is concerned with the story she is divulging and the narrative’s seeming urgency.
This is not to say her instrumental arrangements are not impressive. “Wishing Bone Blues” and “Travelin Blues” both highlight her tactical prowess alongside the skills of Tommy Hannum (Pedal Steel, dobro) and Dow Tomlin (electric bass, double bass). The trio has certainly mastered the jam-style, roots composition Vane has drawn inspiration from, and further brought to life by producer Cactus Moser and his well-established skill. My disconcert with the instrumentals is only to say that the most effective area of Vane’s dexterity is the highly intimate setting she is able to craft. Her a capella opening on “Prayer for the Blind” showcases the haunting quality that the blues is so often touted for- that unexpected element of eerie darkness, gothic lamentation.
Nowhere Sounds Lovely gets an April 2 release. Cristina Vane has stories to tell, and this is only the beginning of her journey.