acoustic folk guitar review roots singer songwriter

Natalie Jane Hill – Azalea Review

My personal folk album of 2020.

Sounds like…

Your own personal concert in humble appreciation of nature and love.

The review

Sometimes musicians have a unique voice and know exactly how to work it. Natalie Jane Hill has an unusual timbre to her voice that makes her folk tracks feel timeless, sung from aged wisdom and feeling innately jaded. It is something that Hill runs with from production to song structure and she nails it on every song. Put simply, ‘Azalea’ is my favourite acoustic folk-inspired album of 2020.

So little is put in the way to cloud or complicate the music of ‘Azalea’. The biggest production statement is that it feels like it is recorded in a barn on cassette tape. The vocals feel narrow and sharp, like an old 60’s hidden gem that’s been uncovered. It doesn’t have any intention degradation of audio though – it feels like a live barn recording captured with little in bells and whistles. That allows the various guitars and banjo to utterly strut their stuff underneath Natalie’s commanding voice.

Natalie Jane Hill

Many songs have a very busy fingerpicking and string bending twist in the riffs that utterly draw you in. This is no simple strum and bemoan the world album – each song has an understated fluidity to it that rolls off the speaker. ‘An Envy Burns’ is a fantastic example of this as a riff speeds by whilst Hill sings like a spurned lover, wailing outlines such as ‘I want to feel enough’ slowly as the guitar speeds along. It is incredibly well-judged and the music has a natural wax and wane to it too. This works perfectly for other darker tracks such as ‘Goldenrod’, ‘Flooded’ and the banjo folk ‘Usnea’.

The counterpoint to some of these dark and brooding tracks are nature-inspired free flowing folk sets. ‘Emerald Blue’ is gorgeous as acoustic guitar layers hustle and bustle over Natalie Jane Hill’s higher register as she coo’s and ooh’s over the beauty of the natural world around her. During these songs, Natalie sings of finding small details of the natural world within her and gaining internal truths from them. Her voice makes all these revelations sound more curious than just words themselves as she switches octaves and elongates certain words. What is clear is that the natural world is a huge inspiration. The guitar evokes a birds wing many a time during ‘All the Things I Never Saw’. ‘Wild Home’ is like a horse and cart trail diary looking out the side of a cart. The album closes with two more reflective softer tracks, culminating in the emotionally charged ‘River Light’ that will wow and delight in equal measure.

It is daring and bold to create an album that is so sparse. I was utterly captivated from beginning to end. Natalie Jane Hill is extremely talented at crafting songs and layering her string bending guitar twangs in a way that feels so busy yet peaceful at the same time. Her voice commands every word she sings through her distinctive tone too. This is my folk album of 2020 hands down. Highly recommended.

Recommended track: An Envy Burns

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Natalie Jane Hill - Azalea

10

10.0/10

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