Charlie Collins Marries Alt-Country and Indie Rock With Debut LP ‘Snowpine’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

When Australia’s Charlie Collins was still just a precocious pre-teen, she jumped onstage at a local pub for a guerrilla performance of the classic country songs she had spent her childhood absorbing (Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris). As Australia’s country music capital, Collins’ hometown of Tamworth was an ideal environment for steeping in her parents’ story-rich record collection. She began playing guitar with her mom from the age of eleven as well as singing with her dad, who also instilled in her an appreciation for the significance of lyrics, asking her to consider a song’s meaning as she would master each new tune. That, plus an abiding love of Johnny Cash, drew Collins to develop a songwriting style rooted firmly in storytelling.

After spending her early 20’s fronting Sydney alt-pop band Tigertown, she soon returned to her introspective solo roots, drawing from personal life experiences and those of her inner circle to pull together her own collection of stories in her debut album Snowpine (Mirror Music Group). With plumb festival slots and a recent month-long stint opening for arguably the hottest band Down Under, Gang of Youths, Collins has quickly found herself gathering buzz as Australia’s next potential breakout artist, and she ably makes her case with her debut release.

From the first tasteful guitar twangs of album opener “Unwell” to the closing strains of “Take My Chances,” Snowpine‘s production sounds utterly accomplished, even polished – surprising given the album’s breakneck inception: a handful of days spent recording (live!) in the Snowy Mountains after a week of letting eight of the album’s eleven songs pour out (with some additional time and input from collaborators to expand the tracklist by three), and then topped off with some expeditious mixing and mastering from husband Chris Collins and friend George Georgiadis, who played guitar and drums respectively (Collins took care of bass). Collins plucked the album title from the name of the lodge in Jindabyne where they recorded the release.

Collins’ Tamworth soil is evident on her solo debut, which has its pivot foot firmly planted in alt-country, but a few tracks also recollect the fashionable 90’s-resurgent strain of indie rock, calling to mind Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail, plus some of their shared influences (Liz Phair, The Cranberries). This is especially felt on the scorching ninth track “Doing It Wrong,” filled to the brim with fuzzed-out guitars and shredding solos, topped off with Collins’ punchy pouting vocals.

Lead single “Wish You Were Here,” which Collins has revealed is about meeting and connecting with people who understand you (“you feel like your soul just got ignited”), also shelves Collins’ primary alt-country stylings to highlight her indie rock inclinations. Airy and intimate, straightforward but satisfying, (which could fairly describe much of the album), Collins’ vocals stay effortless and wistful while the guitar jangles, an ardently poppy melody and a driving tempo propelling the track to its end.

On social media, Collins has referred to her lyrics as therapy. Songwriting as therapy can make for some of the most intimate, honest and vulnerable excavations. Or in less-capable hands, the results can be clunky, overwrought and self-indulgent ass-showing. Collins’ lyrical subtlety and penchant for veiled emoting place her firmly in the former category. Accessible alt-country at a four-on-the-floor trot with rollicking piano stabs and sugary harmonies, the second single “Mexico” seems to draw on themes that are ripe for therapy, though maybe not for Collins herself: in an interview, she revealed that the track details the journey of a friend going through heavy heartbreak who retreated to Mexico for some wound-licking and “to find himself” which definitely suggests escapist flings and altered states of consciousness, if not personal reflection and emotional growth.

Third single and personal album highlight “Beautifully Blind” lights the fuse with a ringing guitar riff and intimate vocals over a scaffolding of bass, adding in salient harmonies and a tom-driven groove before blasting off into a shimmering ionosphere of triumphant megaphonic vocals, splashy percussion and distorted guitars.

Collins’ knack for pop melodies and impeccable phrasing results in an album in which nothing is over-thought. Snowpine feels easy and unburdened, and is imminently relatable. From the plaintive and pleading “Please Let Me Go,” the album’s gravelly yet effervescent fourth single, to the wistful, ominous country twang of “Who’s Gonna Save You Now” swirling with warm lilting vocals and biting guitars, and the unadorned “Space Between” with its fingerpicked guitar and provocative turns of phrase, Collins keeps her lyrical frames panned out wide, and in the hazy fog of suggestive portrayals, we can make out our own shadowy outlines.

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