Published Sep 14, 2016Canadian-raised, New Zealand-based roots singer/songwriter Tami Neilson made a real splash internationally with 2015's Dynamite!¸ an album that showcased both her force-of-nature voice and serious songwriting chops.
Both assets are on vivid display again on new album Don't Be Afraid, but in a significantly different musical setting. There are still elements of the retro country and rockabilly styles featured prior, but Neilson places new emphasis on soul and gospel here. That suits the deeply personal themes of many of the songs, which address the loss of her father and musical mentor, Ron Neilson. He's represented as a songwriter here via the title track and "Lonely," a previously unrecorded song he wrote as a young man and spruced up by Tami.
"Don't Be Afraid," the opening cut, is deep soul that will induce shivers. A classic country ballad, "Lonely" has soaring cosmopolitan strings and a stirring vocal cameo from rising Kiwi star Marlon Williams. The gospel strains are to the fore on both "Bury My Body," a sparse tune that shows off those prodigious pipes, and "Holy Moses," a rousing barnburner. The upbeat Latin-esque revelry of "Loco Mama" adds some needed levity to proceedings halfway through, then its back to the heart-wrenching ballads with "Heavy Heart" and "Only Tears" and onto the fiddle-fuelled romp "Laugh Laugh Laugh."
Neilson closes things out with a beautifully sung ballad, "The First Man," a love letter to her father, "the first man to ever hold me in his arms." This is followed with a short excerpt of the title track, one sung in a strained fashion by Ron Neilson, literally from his deathbed, punctuated by the sound of his oxygen machine. If this doesn't move you, it's time for a "heart missing" alert.
Don't Be Afraid is a powerful tribute to a father from his daughter. The emotions explored so eloquently here resonate deeply. (Outside)