After nearly a decade of self-released and indie album releases, this inventive and inspired Northhampton, Massachusetts-based folk-rock quintet has put together a smashing album that has the sounds and signs of "breakthrough" written all over it.
If there's any justice in the popular-music world (and let's face it, usually there isn't), If You Lived Here You'd Be Home Now will introduce the Nields to the same discerning sorts of listeners who propelled equally deserving artists such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, 10,000 Maniacs and the Cranberries from nichedom to national acclaim.
The Nields' musical core comprises sisters Katryna (lead vocals) and Nerissa Nields (harmony vocals, acoustic guitar and principal songwriter) and Nerissa's husband, David, who handles guitar, harmonica and also writes. Though thoroughly contemporary, they sound most convincing when they turn their attention to the poignant, turbulent, and altogether universal issues of adolescent coming of age.
"Jeremy Newborn Street" (RealAudio excerpt), a signature song that opens the album, is strangely reminiscent of long-gone eras when teenage girls found self-discovery in Sylvia Plath's poetry and Vogue magazine while listening to such songs as "Penny Lane" on cafe jukeboxes. Katryna's lilting vocal and the wonderfully provocative, Beatles-esque instrumental track (which features tin whistles, violins, trumpets and recorders, along with the usual guitar/bass/drums) convey a captivating sense of optimism, warmth and nostalgia. Indeed, "Jeremy Newborn Street," like quite a few other songs here, has a melodic sparkle and lyric evocativeness that's very much in the spirit of 1960s music without sounded at all dated.
You can also hear Katryna's and Nerissa's intricate and intuitive sibling harmonies, as well as Nerissa's provocative lyrical imagery, on such bittersweet rite-of-passage songs as "This Town Is Wrong" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Tell Me I'm Beautiful (I Promise to Believe You This Time)."
There are, it should be noted, a few glitches on this otherwise winning 12-song collection. Though Katryna reaches far afield to turn in an emotionally dead-on rendition of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (RealAudio excerpt), there are times when her mannered, near-Victorian phrasing gets a little cloying (her singing style is, admittedly, not everyone's cup of [herbal] tea.) And Nerissa, who has an English degree from Yale though we shouldn't hold that against her does lapse into arch cuteness on a trite trifle of a recitation called "Barbi Poem."
That aside, this is a fine album that seems destined to put the Nields on the national musical map right where they belong.