Thursday, July 24, 2014

Album review: Heart of Sorrow by Lyn Bowtell

Lyn Bowtell has been a valued member of the Australian country music industry for quite a while - her two Golden Guitars attest to that. As she hasn't reached the same level of fame as some of her contemporaries, however, Heart of Sorrow may mark the first time that many people have heard of her. And it's quite an introduction.

This is an album that defies categorisation because the category is 'the artist is wonderful', but if it recalls the work of anyone, it's that of Canadian singer-songwriter Jann Arden. Bowtell's voice recalls Arden's but it's actually Arden's versatility across genres that is the reason for the comparison. Heart of Sorrow ranges across genres, too – it is not a country music album but it's an album that country music fans can love; it is, to generalise, an album that clutches at the listener's heart and haunts their brain. It's an album that, when I first heard it, I felt like I'd been missing for years and I was overjoyed to discover again. 

The title song and first single should, really, be a number one, and possibly would have been in not-so-long-ago days when artists like Bowtell received the sort of promotional support that could make them known to the broad range of listeners they'd appeal to. However, the whole album is made up of songs like that. All of the songs are powerful and heartfelt and gripping. In a way, Heart of Sorrow seems like Bowtell's way of saying, 'I'm really here'. And she really is. This is an album that reveals a life lived, and still to be lived. There are no empty sentiments and no wasted words. There is no hiding, either - Bowtell's voice is a very accomplished instrument but she is not using it to obfuscate meaning in her lyrics. 

The album was produced by Shane Nicholson, who has already shown that he can take on music of many types and produce greatness. The production on this album is clean and delicate while allowing for complexity, as if Nicholson can hear the song within the song and make sure that all levels of meaning are recorded. Bowtell's remarkable voice shines, but it does not overpower the instruments that support it.

By all standards - quality of the songs, song selection, talent of the singer, production of the album - this is a remarkable album. It's also an album that should stand as a classic - but that doesn't mean anyone should take their time discovering it. It's an album that we all need, even if we don't know it yet.

Heart of Sorrow is out now through Sony Music.

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