Cristina Vane Favors Pre-War American Blues On Auspicious Debut ‘Nowhere Sounds Lovely’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Debut albums are relatively rare on these pages. Enter resonator-playing, foot-stomping Cristina Vane, different enough to merit our attention on her first recording, Nowhere Sounds Lovely. The headline connotes blues, which is fundamental to her sound, but mountain music, folk music, and even western waltzes are part of her widely encompassing sound. Born in Italy to a Sicilian-American father and a Guatemalan mother, Vane grew up between England, France, and Italy, and was fluent in four languages by the time she moved to her fathers’ native United States to attend university at 18 years old.  And yet, this is one of the most “American” sounding albums you’ll hear.

Unlike most of her contemporaries in the music industry, Vane favors pre-war American blues from the likes of Skip James, Robert Johnson, and Blind Willie Johnson.  In more modern-day terms, it’s Rory Block who credits as a major influence. So, her sound is somewhat of a throwback, but her emotive, rich voice gives it a more contemporary sheen. Of course, there’s also her finely honed guitar playing – earthy, not overly flashy, but with deep feeling and perfectly married on many tunes to her voice. 

The album begins with the slow-burn blues of “Dreamboy” from which we are next transported to the western waltz of “Dreaming of Utah” and even more directly, later in the pedal-steel imbued “Satisfied Soul.”  On “Driving Song,” she picks out a dark modal melody on a grungy electric guitar to accompany her haunting voice. Some of the tunes will remind of those based on similar chord patterns such as the fingerstyle guitar-driven “Heaven Bound Station” being akin to Robert Wilkins’ “Prodigal Son,” made famous by the Stones. Appalachian stains kick in prominently with the clawhammer banjo of “Prayer for the Blind” and again later in the lament “Will I Ever Be Satisfied.”  

On the standout “Wishing Bone Blues”, Vane’s emotive resonator rings in unison with her voice, as she explains, “I’ve seen gold up on the mountain, and drank silver from that fountain, and I’m out here, and I’m wishing, once again.”  Her yearning is palpable. She sounds jubilant on “Blueberry Hill” (her own, not the Fats Domino tune). “Badlands,” the album’s closing track, though, is indeed a haunting nod to the Dakota’s rocky, windy bleak and at the same time beautiful landscape, captured again with the weaving of her voice with the dark, bluesy guitar chords – as if the instrumentation symbolizes the landscape and her especially emotive voice on this one is like the sunlight creating those amazing images on the rocks, seen so often in photography.

With her nomadic upbringing, Vane had no sense of belonging to any one culture or country.  What she did have, however, was an intense love of music.   Nowhere Sounds Lovely documents her first summer-long tour across the United States, during which she directly encountered the breadth and depth of the American landscape, and her own place within it.

Working with Grammy-award-winning drummer and producer Cactus Moser (Wynonna Judd) on Nowhere Sounds was assurance enough that she’d come to the right place. “When it came to the album, I wanted it to be a reflection of who I am, not just of the old music that I’ve come to love”, she explains, “and I’m essentially a rock kid who is obsessed with old music.” Moser also played drums on the record and his style has a great feel for traditional roots music. The album was engineered by Rodney Dawson and features bass player Dow Tomlin, fiddle player Nate Leath, and pedal steel player Tommy Hannum. These musicians imbued her blues-rock sound with tinges of country and old-time for the first time in her career, reflecting the expansion of her own musical palette over a summer of touring. 

 

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