The Good: Excellent vocals, Decent lyrics, Nice musical variety, Thematic unity is good
The Bad: Some awkward lyrics (rhyming word with itself)
The Basics: On her 2005 outing Redbird, not available in the U.S., Heather Nova sings songs largely unified by the sense of healing they promote.
Heather Nova's career in the U.S. has pretty much hit a brick wall, not because of her talent, but rather because of her ability to distribute discs. Here, it stinks. Her album South followed up her album Siren, which was both a perfect album and had a number of tracks that were successful, though not so much on the charts. South did not fare well in the States and her follow-up, Storm was not even released in the U.S. In 2005, she released Redbird and fans of Heather Nova have been waiting for it to jump the pond. It's not.
Redbird is a twelve-track album that clocks in over fifty-one minutes, so it almost effectively uses the capacity for a c.d. (I get bummed out whenever I buy an album and it doesn't use all 74 minutes). And it is certainly a worth successor to Storm. If Storm was Heather Nova's breakup album, Redbird is Heather Nova's healing album.
One suspects Heather Nova knew that Redbird would not be released in the United States: on the domestic release of South, she included a bonus track called "Welcome." On this release, she includes "Welcome" to open the album, which finally gets that track to her loyal overseas fan base. And, to be fair, "Welcome" is an excellent way to open an album.
Though Redbird is not quite a perfect album. Ironically, part of what keeps it from reaching that near-impossible plateau that Nova has reached twice before (Siren and South both qualify) is the title track. Redbird is quite possibly one of the worst Heather Nova songs she's recorded, not because of the music, but because of the lyrics. Redbird (the track) uses predictable rhymes ("I saw the redbird fly / Bright flame against the sky / burning against the sun / am I the only one?") and descends into the repetition of "The blood red rubies" over and over and over and over again. Nova has very effectively done very short tracks before (one of my favorites from Glowstars remains "All The Way"), but here she tries to stretch out twelve lines of poetry into a four plus minute song. It just does not work. Strangely, though, three of the lines are truly wonderful: "I split the pomegranate / Restless until you've had it / Sweet against the tongue, am I the only one?"
It is unfortunate, then, that when it came time to name this album, Heather Nova chose Redbird. Redbird, the track, is not emblematic of the themes or quality of Redbird the album. In the past, Heather Nova has had no problem naming albums independent of any track title (Blow, Oyster, and Siren, for example). If she felt the need to name based on a track title the album would have been served much better with either "Done Drifting" or "Singing You Through." Both are beautifully poetic, wonderful, memorable tracks that capture the theme of reconstruction that the album seems to be tied together with.
The music on Redbird is surprisingly more folk in sound than Nova's previous albums. The sweet, sad, storytelling nature of "I Miss My Sky (Amelia Earhart's Last Days)" while qualitatively Nova is much more in the stylistic vein of Dar Williams than a pop-rock singer. Similarly, "Singing You Through" could be a lost Joan Baez classic.
That's not to say Heather Nova does not still rock. "Motherland" and "Mesmerized" both have stronger guitars and more of a pop-rock sound than anything on Storm. And Nova's lone cover, "Wicked Game" is definitely a rock version of that song.
What keeps the album at such a high level of quality is the unifying factor of Heather Nova's gorgeous voice and excellent writing. Heather Nova is the bird that is singing us through, as she voices on "Singing You Through." She has a versatile range that tends to roam freely and wonderfully between the alto and soprano range. She manages to be articulate when the tempo is faster and sensual when the tempo is slower. She effortlessly emotes her poetry and listening to even her lesser songs (on this album “Redbird” and the surprisingly sappy "A Way To Live") are better written and better sung than 95% of the music one hears on the radio or on other artists' albums.
Who will enjoy Redbird? Anyone who likes a strong female voice, perspective and musical diversity that extends the pop-rock range toward the storytelling folk genre. Anyone who has been hurt and is in the stages of putting it back together, this is great for. Actually, it might be ideal for the early relationship of people who have been hurt and are getting through it together. It's a healing album. It's an album about letting others back in.
And that's pretty wonderful.
The best track is "Done Drifting" and the weakest is “Redbird.”
For other Heather Nova album reviews, please be sure to check out:
Live From The Milky Way
The Jasmine Flower
300 Days At Sea
Check out how this album stacks up against every other musical work I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page!
© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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