Album review: Native Harrow – Happier Now

Native Harrow.

Native Harrow. - Credit: Archant

Handsome Family labelmate and former ballerina fronts a set of disarming, powerful reflections on love and life.

Native Harrow. Picture: Brenna Tuel.

Native Harrow. Picture: Brenna Tuel. - Credit: Archant

Having spent almost 20 years as a ballerina and several as a classically trained singer, New York state's Devin Tuel probably knows more than most about sacrifice and discipline from a young age.

Happier Now finds her reflecting on her 20s before she's even left them, but these nine tracks of slow, roots-y Americana certainly aren't lacking in emotional depth or clear-cut lyrical charm.

Tuel's third album as Native Harrow, with sidekick Stephen Harms, was recorded live over three days in a small studio in Chicago.

Some vintage mics help her bell-clear, graceful vocals evoke a 70s Laurel Canyon feel - and inevitable comparisons to early Joni Michell in Blue Canyon, a paean to California's "heatstroke bushes" and a perfect love that remains just beyond reach.

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In fact, it's anything but dated - timeless melodies and warm arrangements of guitar and percussion ensure an intimacy and immediacy that's impossible to escape, and the quality doesn't drop.

Hard To Take dissects a faltering relationship and crises of confidence over a moody, slow waltz, while the dappled guitar of Can't Go On Like This soundtracks a restless protagonist wondering if she sacrificed her best years for a love who's failed her.

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Round And Round provides an up-tempo intervention, conjuring ominous overtones with dramatic drums and an ethereal delivery from Tuel, and a hint of gospel-soul is offered in the organ-backed Something You Have, which glides along with melancholic dignity.

The most touching moment comes in Hung Me Out To Dry, a broken-heart-on-sleeve lament set to mid-paced acoustic guitar and minimal but well-placed lonesome strings.

A usually direct lyricist, Tuel signs off amid a glowing guitar motif with opaque couplets in album closer Way To Light, pondering - possibly - the intersection of wealth and redemption, and how shows of gratitude may help her leave this earth with her moral books balanced. Or not. Either way, it's an ambling-yet-arresting final chapter that suggests this duo have a bright future ahead.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

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