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 REVIEWS AND EXCLUSIVE ARTIST REFLECTIONS
Album reviews
Live Performance Reflections
 ARTICLES
London Rain
Heather deserves a hit
Comming out
NY Rock Interview
KOOL artist biographies
Heahter's concert in lower Manhattan
Walk the world
Forgotten Angel
The Crossing Border Festival
New album "Storm"
SorrowJoy
Anti Pop Heroine
Your point of view
The ticket blues
Heather's Isolation
Marktrock 2003
Heather is expecting a child
Nova shines brighter than ever
Rock Star Burning Bright
Birthday gig
Reviews and exclusive artist reflections
Redbird
Heather at the Vredenburg
Heather at Shepherd's Bush
Simply the best

ALBUM REVIEWS

Glowstars

Glow Stars. Heather Nova's debut album (V2 (UK) VVR1001982, 1993) is more acoustic in concept and far more idiosyncratic than her later collections--less focussed and polished and not as immediate. In many ways however it is her most interesting and rewarding CD.

The decision, by Heather and/or producer Felix Tod, to leave the drum kit gathering dust in the corner was inspired. Sparse percussion is the order of the day and this brilliantly maintains the sensual aura and otherworldly feel that permeate the album.

The ethereal opening to "Bare" sets the mood not only for this track, but for the album as a whole. As with many Heather Nova songs, the sea is never far away--the whole CD is awash with images of and references to it--and this song is laced with ocean-sounds.

"My Fidelity" and "Spirit In You" are more conventional; both are based around Heather's acoustic guitar and have choruses and fragile harmonies. "My Fidelity" is held down by a cello/string line and "Spirit" demonstrates how little percussion is actually needed on a song to maintain a feel and rhythm. "Shell" is a sensual, rhythmic song with some unusual vocal lines.

The title song is another of the more singular tracks on the album with Heather's voice sounding younger than normal. There's a ripping electric guitar in the mid-song break and while the whole track is only the minutes long, it is utterly fascinating. "Ear To The Ground" is an early example of the half-spoken/half-sung vocal that she uses to such effect on later albums, for example in "I'm The Girl" on Siren.

"Second Skin" is the one track that might not sound out of place on later albums. The full drum kit puts in its only appearance, but it doesn’t quite fit the overall feel of Glow Stars. There's a more aggressive vocal approach to "Mothertongue" which again sits a little uneasily in the context of the album. The live version on Blow is arguably better. This is followed by the short and unnecessary "All The Way."

After this slight dip however there's a massively powerful three-track finale to the album. "Frontier" is stunning without doing anything dramatic. The use of a male voice (Moses Bones) is an unexpected and brilliant touch. Tori Amos tried the same thing on "Little Earthquakes," but it works better on "Frontier" for being understated. Heather’s harmonies are unearthly. It is a riveting piece of music. "Shaking The Doll"’ is another left-field track with sudden changes of tack. There's a percussive string quartet and a subtle vocalise reference to Pink Floyd's "Great Gig In The Sky" from Dark Side Of The Moon.

The final song of the album, "Talking To Strangers," set against a keyboard wash with some double tracked vocals, admirably demonstrates Nova's ability to use her voice to create atmosphere--it’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. If you come to Glow Stars having heard any of Heather Nova's other albums you may need some convincing--despite her distinctive voice--that it is the same artist. The song writing and arrangements bear very little resemblance to what was to follow. Nevertheless, dismiss this album at your peril; there’s much to discover and admire in these unusual songs. Persevere and you’ll be rewarded.--Jamie Field and Evelyn Downing

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Glowstars Bare My Fidelity Spirit In You Shell Glow Stars Ear To The Ground Second Skin Mothertongue All The Way Frontier Shaking The Doll Talking To Strangers

Blow

The first of Heather Nova's three live releases, it is a recording of a solid performance in front of what sounds like a small audience. The band backing Heather consists of a guitarist, bassist, cellist and drummer and this line up gave the opportunity for a good variety in tone, tempo and sound during the set. Recorded after the release of Glowstars and before Oyster, it has a selection of tracks from both these albums.

"Light Years" has Heather launching into some extraordinary vocal gymnastics. It takes confidence to open with something like that. The song's solidly played if a little lacking in energy. There's good use of cello lines and it is dynamically strong. "Sugar" is consistantly a highlight of Heather's live set and this is no exception. The tension builds remorselessly, the guitar sound is excellent, there's superb use of dynamics and the singing is extremely powerful.

The quiet opening to "Maybe An Angel" is wonderful after the power of "Sugar." Slower than the album version, it suffers a little, though it is still one of Heather's strongest songs. This is followed by "Blessed" with just guitar, voice and cello--very calming and very beautiful. "Mothertongue" provides one of the most energetic performances on the album--very well played and sung with excellent melodic guitar lines and great lyrics. Altogether a better piece than the studio version, it is probably the highlight of the album.

"Talking To Strangers" has a wonderful wash and successfully transfers the atmosphere of the Glowstars track to a live setting. The same could also be said of "Shaking The Doll," where the tension grows through the subtle opening until it becomes almost unbearable before the powerful emotional release. It's one of Heather Nova’s most ambitious songs and this is a fine version. "Frontier," one of the strongest songs on Glowstars, opens with an impressive soundscape and develops well with some glorious cello lines and some restrained vocals. The album closes with the beautifully melodic "Doubled Up."

This is a fine live album. The arrangements are satisfyingly different from the studio versions of the songs and show off admirably Heather's extraordinary vocal range and dexteritory. The performances of all the band merit a larger and more enthusiastic audience than the one they were playing in front of and the response to some of the songs is somewhat muted which doesn't help the feel of the album as a whole, but the CD does capture the tremendous emotion both in the songs and in Heather's vocal performance.--Evelyn Downing and Jamie Field.

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Blow Light Years Sugar Maybe An Angel Blessed Mothertongue Talking To Strangers Shaking The Doll Frontier Doubled Up

Oyster

Heather Nova's 1995 release is considered the artist's breakthrough album. In particular, the single "Walk this World" received significant airplay around the world. For the most part, Oyster is a brooding, atmospheric, and haunting affair. Heather's skillful guitar playing is the focal point of the album although her songs are beautifully layered with cello, percussion, bass, twelve-string and electric guitars.

Most of the songs are written in minor keys, lending the album a somewhat tragic tone and the lyrics are intense and personal in nature. The aforementioned opening track, "Walk this World" is a rockingly solid tune that sounds as fresh today as it did eight years ago. Fans of Michelle Branch or Sarah McLachlan would no doubt find much to enjoy in this song.

Songs like "Heal" and "Island" are lush and sorrowful tunes displaying Heather's uniquely stunning voice. One of the best tracks on Oyster is the forceful "Throwing Fire at the Sun." The almost tribal-like rhythm and blazing chorus make this a standout song. Heather Nova clearly loves good old fashioned power chords. On "Maybe an Angel," Heather kicks it into high gear in an almost 80's-esque fashion with processed reverberating vocals and guitar rifts.

The standout "Truth and Bone" is especially catchy with its clean harmonized chorus and singable lyrics. The mournful and tender "Walking Higher" is an example of exceptional songwriting. The lyrics are deeply poetic and meaningful while the melody of the song is positive and uplifting. "Doubled Up" is a fine and folky rumination on the wonder of love.

Oyster is an excellent collection of exquisite melodies written and sung by a superbly talented artist. Heather Nova has never feared to share her most initimate thoughts and emotions through her songs. It is this artistic honesty that makes her work so consistently appealing.--Justin Elswick

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Oyster Walk This World Heal Island Throwing Fire At The Sun Maybe An Angel Truth and bone Blue Black Walking Higher Light Years Verona Doubled Up

Live From The Milky Way.

The album, as the title suggests, is a six track live album recorded at Melkeweg, Amsterdam. The set, all but one of which are taken from Oyster, are superbly played and recorded. We have come to expect nothing less from Heather Nova. The vocals are clear and precise, sung with the confidence of the performer we know Heather to be, and display her full range and versatility. There isn’t a poor moment from the opening power and energy in "Maybe An Angel" to the angelic "Verona" that closes the CD. The pace is varied well throughout, although there is a surprising number of slow tracks given the length of the set.

The opening track, "Maybe An Angel" is an excellent rock song, performed with energy. "Throwing Fire At The Sun" another great rock song, makes excellent use of dynamics and moves seamlessly into "Talking To Strangers," the only track from "Glowstars," which has wonderful cello lines weaving through it, creating atmosphere with the very simple instrumentation so typical of that album. This marks the start of a very quiet, reflective section that isn’t broken until halfway through "Sugar" when there is the impact of electric guitars and full drum kit. This track shows off Heather's grasp of dynamics and displays some great ensemble playing.

"Walking Higher" is yet another track to start quietly and build. Despite this repeated trait, the arrangements are solid throughout, often stronger than their album counterparts. Such is the case with "Verona" which seems to have more energy a nd style despite the lack of vocal harmony. The overall sound and feel of this album is different enough to Oyster to make it interesting, while still being fundamentally Heather Nova at her best.

It could be argued that, terrific performer though she is, Heather Nova is over-represented in terms of live CD recordings. When Wonderlust was released there were as many live albums as there were studio ones. Of the three performance albums--Live From The Milky Way, Blow and Wonderlust) Milky Way arguably possesses the vocal performance of greatest clarity, and despite some occasional over-heavy drum work, still has a freshness that the lack lustre and world-weary Wonderlust fail to match. Milky Way also has a noticeably better concert feel than Blow. You’re much closer to the front! But as with Tori Amos, a DVD is likely to prove the best medium to do Heather Nova true justice as live performer.--Evelyn Downing and Jamie Field

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Live from the MilkyWay Maybe An Angel Throwing Fire At The Sun Talking To Strangers Sugar Walking Higher Verona

Siren

The release of Heather Nova's album Siren (V2 (UK) VVR1001872, 1998), released three years after Oyster, marks a major advance. The smooth production values of its predecessor have been jettisoned in favour of a more immediate, somewhat rougher, but altogether more confident sound. "Less polished, more rock'n'roll," is how Heather described it.

Siren also gives more room to Heather's exceptional voice and there's a concerted effort to use the vocals to create the atmosphere within the songs. Heather described Oyster as "a healing process" following an abusive relationship. On Siren there is a sea-change; it is, for the most part, a much more optimistic collection of songs.

The ultra commercial "London Rain" is perfect as an opening track. It's awash with hooks and displays all the new found self-confidence and self-belief that grew from the success of "Oyster." "There've been changes beyond my dreams. Everybody wants me to sing," says Heather--which she does superbly. "Blood Of Me," about the ending of a relationship, is one of the most powerful songs on the album due almost entirely to Heather"s devastating vocal performance, which will leave you haunted.

"Valley of Sound" is a simpler song driven by Heather"s acoustic guitar. "I"m The Girl" a heavier track with half-spoken verses leading into another great chorus. The atmospheric introduction to "Winterblue" lifts into a string-washed, love song. The Beatlesque keyboard on "Widescreen" sets up a song about the joy of simply being alive. The vocal delivery on this is absolutely perfect. There are still echoes of the past though. "I'm Alive" suggests the ghosts that haunted Oyster haven"t been entirely exorcised and "Paper Cup" is a touching song with darker overtones suggesting that sometimes it"s better to let go however much you"d like to hold on to something. There's a song for every emotion and a tremendous variety and imagination in the arrangements.

For the most part, the song writing on this album is exceptional. Lyrically, Nova has the knack for conveying complex emotions in killer couplets - and the album is laced with choruses that hook you on a single hearing. On the closing track, "Not Only Human" she sings "Life is something set to music," which aptly sums up what Heather Nova is all about. She writes from experience, her emotions are honest and real and this gives the songs a rare authenticity and authority. By whatever lights you measure these things, Siren is a truly outstanding album.--Jamie Field and Evelyn Downing.

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Siren London Rain (Nothing Heals Me Like You Do) Blood Of Me Heart And Shoulder What A Feeling Valley Of Sound I'm The Girl Winter Blue I'm Alive Widescreen Paper Cup Avalanche Make You Mine Ruby Red Not Only Human

Wonderlust

The most recent of Heather Nova's three live releases is perhaps one too many as it is by some distance the weakest of them. The cover bears a striking resemblance to Blow, her first live album (pastelesque drawing), but that is where the similarity ends. Much of Wonderlust is best described as lack lustre. The verve, sparkle and interesting arrangements found throughout Blow and Live From The Milky Way are lacking here.

Despite the technically faultless playing, the band plod through the opening "Winterblue," one of the best songs from Siren and it takes them to beyond the set's half way mark to really get going. From that point on, there are some superb moments, noticeably the slower, more acoustic numbers such as "Doubled Up" and "Truth And Bone." The band and audience warm up considerably after this, building through the rockier "I’m The Girl" and "Make You Mine" and culminating in the extraordinary extended performance of the album standout "Sugar," before calming down again with the closing track, a beautiful rendition of "I'm On Fire," which shows off Heather's amazing range and vocal dexterity.

But, in truth, these moments aren't enough to justify a third concert release. As anyone who's seen Heather live will vouch, she is a dynamic performer but that simply doesn't translate consistently enough onto CD in this instance.--Evelyn Downing and Jamie Field

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Wonderlust Winter Blue Walk This World Island Heart And Shoulder Paper Cup London Rain Not Only Human Doubled Up Truth And Bone I'm The Girl Heal Make You Mine Sugar I'm On Fire

South

This richly producted and varied album is Heather Nova's most musically diverse, mature and interesting album to date. Following more closely the style of Siren, South incorporates elements of blues, folk, jazz, rock and even occasional trip-hop/electronic flourishes.

On tracks like "If I Saw You in a Movie" and "Help Me be Good to You," Heather moulds her crisp and angelic voice to creamy downtempo beats and dreamy strings. Heather's fabulous take on the classic "Gloomy Sunday" is vibrant and utterly new. The string accompaniment and slinky backbeat give this standard a whole new image.

Reminiscent of her earlier work on Oyster, "Just Been Born" and "Heaven Sent" are deleriously sensual and intimate. What is apparent throughout is that Heather Nova really knows how to write appealing music. Her's is the sort of music that sounds great whether on an open sunny highway or in a dark room on a rainy night. "Just Been Born" is a pulsating, erotic and trippy track that cranks up the heat. "Heaven Sent" has a touch of the Fleetwood Mac spirit in the way that the melody resolves and the instrumentation propels the song.

The romatically brilliant "It's Only Love" with its broken and sweeping guitar chords is a passionate and goosebump-inducing slice of sonic pleasure. Not all is obssession and intensity on South, however. The lazy and fun "Waste the Day" captures the vibe of a breezy summer weekend at the beach. "Virus of the Mind" shares some common ground with Alanis Morrisette and Sherly Crow. Jaunty and sassy, the song is largely sung in speak-song as Heather considers the importance of indepedent thinking. "I'm No Angel" is a rockin' and rollin' tune that hits that perfect Americana/rambling roadhouse sound.

Old fans of Heather Nova may be a little suprised by the broadened scope of her music. However, the core aspects of Heather's style remain intact. Still present are the thoughtful lyrics and solid songwriting that are the hallmarks of her work. South proves that Heather Nova is an artist that can effortlessly combine various musical styles without sound contrived or "of the moment." This individuality and spark leads us to believe that Ms. Nova will be around for a long time to come.--Justin Elswick

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South If I Saw You In A Movie Talk To Me Virus Of The Mind Like Lovers Do Waste The Day Heaven Sent Only Love I'm No Angel Help Me Be Good To You When Somebody Turns You On Gloomy Sunday Tested Just Been Born

Storm

An album started in the late sweltering heat of a Bermuda summer, recorded in a studio on top of a snow-covered Woodstock mountain and mixed in a Manhattan spring where a freak heat wave was constantly interrupted by gale force winds, sleet, heavy rains and snow. The elements were destined to affect more than just the choice of album title. So writes the label about Storm (Big Cat Records (UK) ABB205, 2003), Heather Nova's fifth studio album. Regrettably much of what was wonderful in Nova's former work seems to have been lost in this long-awaited offering. It is a short album with a total running time of just under 40 minutes.

We understand that it's an album that Heather has wanted to make for a long time, simplicity being the common denominator throughout the songs, the musical performances and the production. With vocals and basic guitar were recorded at Heather's Bermuda home, she feared that the songs might get lost in the production process. Listening to her favourite albums, Heather came upon the ideas of taking her songs further by collaborating with another artists, as botgh co-producers and musicians, each of her previous albums having been made with a mixture of musicians and producers. But Storm has lost Heather Nova's brightness, the material broods so, that even after repeated listens, the album didn't capture our correspondents' attention the way South, Siren or Oyster did.

It isn't that the vocal work or the recording went astray. The songs have just lost the brightness and brilliance that Heather Nova's music created previously. Perhaps it was the atmosphere of Mercury Rev's albums and her intense work with him that created the result. The two laboured away without contractual restrictions at Allaire Studios, thousands of feet up a mountain in Woodstock, where daily snowfall levels increased through the wintertime. The music flowed freely and quickly, the "Divine Sparks" bringing the desired atmosphere and the subtlest production touches and playing on all but two songs: "Storm" which features Heather on her own and "Everytime," solo performance featuring the guitar playing of the Patti Smith Grou's Lenny Kaye, a long time Heather fan.

The songs fall loosely into two different types according to Heather, those with a narrative like "Fool For You" and "One Day In June," and those like "Aquamarine" that are textures, landscapes, passing moments in time. Heather says, "If I had to sum up the album I would say it is about 'temptation, desire and guilt'. The title Storm" points towards a need to bring situations to a head, often where it is tha hardest thing emotionally, in the hope that things can be resolved. The weather conditions during the recording definitely added to the isolation felt in the sound of the finished record."

The eleven tracks are well stripped down in comparison to the last three of Nova's studio recordings. Vocally the artist remains strong but the broody and dark textures across the album's tracks dominate in all but a couple of more thickly arranged numbers. While the earliest of Heather Nova's albums were more simply arranged, the essential ingredients of brightness and balance were lost in the production of Storm. Maybe next time Heather should record the entire album in Bermuda where the weather is always fair, or alongside producers that understand how to make the most of this stunning vocalist's tremendous raw talent.--Russ Elliot

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Storm Letís Not Talk About Love You Left Me A Song Drink It In River Of Life One Day In June Storm I Wanna Be Your Light Aquamarine All I Need Everything Fool For You