As with so many of my best-loved artists, I first came across the work of Nina Nastasia listening to John Peel. Only 1,500 copies of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it debut album "Dogs" were pressed by the tiny Socialist label (hence the wry remark, "Thank you, Comrades" in the booklet).
Fortunately, Steve Albini, who recorded the album in October 1999 at his Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago, sent a copy to the nation's favourite deejay, and with his usual keen ear for the original, the inspiring and the raw, he began featuring it heavily on his Radio One show, describing it as "astonishing", although by the time he played it on air, it had already become out of print. She went on to become a regular contributor to the programme, in session, on record, in concert and in performance at Peel Acres, and in 2004 "Dogs", by now with its own cult following, was re-released by Touch And Go.
Judging from the record, Nina clearly has bad days and worse days, and tends to sing about characters who are less fortunate. It is music like this that makes for the most satisfying listen, and Nina is its mistress.
Although a native of Hollywood CA, she spent the nineties in downtown New York, honing her music with partner and musical organizer Kennan Gudjonsson in their Chelsea home. As a result, the record is a distillation of a decade of composing and performing and contains a number of concise, finely-tuned songs that have remained in her concert repertoire, with sparse, eerie arrangements, including A Dog's Life, Stormy Weather (not the standard), Too Much In Between, All Your Life and Jimmy's Rose Tattoo.
Of the record, Steve Albini said in Mojo, 'Nina Nastasia's "Dogs" is a record so simultaneously unassuming and grandiose that I can't really describe it, except in terms that would make it (and me) sound silly. Of the couple thousand records I've been involved with, this is one of my favourites, and one that I'm proud to be associated with', and John Peel described the songs as 'very direct without being posy or too clever. There's an attractive air of melancholy without self-pity.'
Nina's perfectly-pitched vocals and acoustic guitar are tautly accompanied by cello and violin, an occasional electric guitar, some well-judged musical saw, accordion, piano, acoustic and electric basses and the vital underpinnings of some extremely subtle drum work, faithfully conveyed by Steve Albini's meticulous engineering. It was unlike any record before it and has set the mold for her future work to date. It is good to have it back in catalogue.