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Rumer – Nashville Tears: The Songs of Hugh Prestwood album review

The award-winning vocalist’s latest album pays tribute to a legendary Nashville songwriter.

Rumer
Credit: Alan Messer

Credit: Alan Messer

Rumer first came to British music fans’ attention back in 2010, when she released her debut album Seasons Of My Soul. The record was a smash hit, earning her a MOJO Award for Best Breakthrough Act and eventually going platinum. Since then she’s branched out as an interpreter of classic songwriting, including the music of Burt Bacharach on her most recent album, 2016’s This Girl’s In Love. Now she’s turned her attention to the work of Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Hugh Prestwood on her new release, Nashville Tears.

The album opens with The Fate Of Fireflies, a wistful, romantic number which features a lush string intro and a sparkling guitar melody. Right from the off Rumer’s distinctive vocals transport you into the song as she shows off her skill in building the image of a dreamlike, almost surreal enviroment. You really feel the connection between her and the lyrics and there’s a playfulness and charm about it that instantly make you feel like you’re in safe hands. It’s a very simple arrangement but utterly gorgeous, and sets the mark for the rest of the album.

One thing which really stood out to me is how Rumer embraces a sense of place on the album. Bristlecone Pine, which features Lost Hollow and sees Rumer reach some impressive high notes, creates an eerie image of a lonesome landscape alongside its narrator’s emotional turmoil and is wonderfully atmospheric, with a measured delivery that adds to the sense of foreboding and nicely balances out the soaring chorus. Meanwhile, the slick Deep Summer In The Deep South has a shuffling rhythm, twangy guitars and a classic rock and roll vibe, with an opening verse that makes you feel the weight of the stifling, almost oppressive heat (and which felt very appropriate for our recent heatwave!), whilst Hard Times For Lovers draws on 60s California rock and folk influences with pulsing drums, slide guitar and a singalong chorus which contrast the sense of regret in the lyrics Rumer expertly conveys.

 

However what ties it all together is Rumer’s beautiful vocals. By turns sweet, breathy, clear, rich, smooth and a little bit husky in parts, she pours her heart into her interpretations of these songs and making them completely believable on an emotional level. June, It’s Gonna Happen is an early example of this, with its mixture of anger, release and caution coming through alongside the excitement and hopefulness of a new love. You get hints of the potential power she has as a vocalist but also her impressive control. Elsewhere, the soft, acoustic Oklahoma Stray sees her in plaintive, heartstring-tugging mode, whilst Learning How To Love mixes country twang with a tale of first love and really conveys the tentative yet trusting nature of the situation, as well as showing Rumer’s ability to bring the song’s characters to life in her passionate delivery.

Many of the shining moments on this record tend to come in the slower numbers, where the emphasis is put firmly on Rumer’s voice. Ghost In This House is a sparse, layered number with sweeping strings that sees her in melancholy mood (and may well make you well up), the moving waltz Heart Full Of Rain has a mournful, bittersweet quality and is full of conviction, and The Snow White Rows Of Arlington is an introspective track which features ominous military drum rolls and a powerful, lingering image of the cemetery along with some huge notes from Rumer.

That said, the section of the record which stands out to me comes around two-thirds of the way through, beginning with Starcrossed Hanger Of The Moon, a piano-led, nostalgic number that’s full of warmth but also has a palpable sense of sadness. Rumer reveals the layers and textures in her vocals throughout the song, particularly on the a capella bridge, and there’s some nice jazzy touches from the piano line as well. She then follows it with The Song Remembers When – probably the best known song of the batch – which has a rich, delicate feel with sweeping strings and a strangely practical delivery, before moving to That’s That where she swings between rage at an ex-lover in the verses and acceptance on the chorus. She really captures the rollercoaster of emotions around a break-up and I loved the Clapton-esque guitar solo at the end as well. Lastly, there’s the gentle, piano-led Here You Are, a sepia-toned song looking back on old memories that provides a nice counterpoint to That’s That and shows off the sweeter side of her vocals, whilst sounding like it could have been lifted from a classic movie soundtrack. For me these four tracks really highlight her ability to make these songs her own and the sheer amount of feeling she puts into them, as well as allowing Prestwood’s skill as a lyricist to come through.

Rumer closes the album with Half The Moon, which for me sums up the record as a whole. There’s a brightness in the melody which contrasts the subdued lyrics and sees Rumer convey the wistful, bittersweet lyrics of losing a lover with sweet, breathy vocals. Her beautiful tone and steady delivery add to the emotional depth of the song and despite the downbeat messaging there’s a lovely warmth and richness to her tone too.

Overall Nashville Tears is an assured, confident collection that highlights Rumer’s impressive vocal talents as well as her skills as an interpreter. Although she keeps the arrangements relatively simple, in reality they don’t need a lot of bells and whistles – the quality of Prestwick’s songwriting particularly stands out when the songs are stripped back and the emphasis is put firmly on how her vocals marry with his lyrics and the emotions that she is able to convey. It’s a truly brilliant combination and serves as a great introduction to Prestwick’s work and Rumer’s artistic abilities, and I’m very intrigued to see what she’ll turn her hand to in the future.

Track listing: 1. The Fate Of Fireflies 2. June, It’s Gonna Happen 3. Oklahoma Stray 4. Bristlecone Pine (featuring Lost Hollow) 5. Ghost In This House 6. Deep Summer In The Deep South 7. Heart Full Of Rain 8. Hard Times For Lovers 9. Starcrossed Hanger Of The Moon 10. The Song Remembers When 11. That’s That 12. Here You Are 13. Learning How To Love 14. The Snow White Rows Of Arlington 15. Half The Moon Record label: Cooking Vinyl Release date: 14th August 2020

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