Since 2000, Hollywood-born, New York-based singer-songwriter Nina Nastasia has been making astonishing albums that have cut listeners to the quick, leaving their bones exposed, dragging their hearts away. She has swept up some high-profile fans in the process: six sessions were recorded for John Peel, and legendary producer Steve Albini has worked with her closely throughout the last decade, calling her first album, Dogs, "one of my favourites... of the couple of thousand records I've been involved with". Still largely unknown outside alternative circles, Nastasia's bruised, balmy songs deserve a much wider audience.
Outlaster is Nastasia's sixth LP, following 2007's You Follow Me, an experimental album fashioned with Dirty Three drummer Jim White. This is a more old-fashioned record, full of tangible tenderness and yearning strings, but there is imminent danger as it moves along languidly. Nastasia's beautiful voice is at the heart of this, being easy to love and full of natural soul, but also handling every syllable with a quick-smart economy that teems with strength and authority.
These endlessly accessible songs also have depths and twists. Cry, Cry, Baby begins with Nastasia telling her newly-former lover she won't weep or worry any more, but later she says, coldly: "You're my only true love / And I know I can't change". You Can Take Your Time swings with country spirit and reassurance, albeit with a sting in the tail ("you can take your time to work things out / It'll be alright, just don't screw up"), while What's Out There exposes her talent for observation ("A wall, a window, a gnatty garden turning hotly in the heat"), as strings are plucked and bowed anarchically to create clammy atmospheres.
Nevertheless, this is a record full of space and intimacy, drawing the listener completely into its black-and-blue world. This mood makes opening lines like "They're wrapped him in a sheet, he could be anyone / We say a psalm, as we would for anyone" from Wakes sound much more personal and tangible than it is grand and dramatic. Let her stories into your life, and they will never leave you. After all, Nastasia's talent is to snare those who find her, and never let them go. --Jude Rogers
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