One of the joys of having a music blog is the constant search and discovery of new artists that blow you away. It was one of the most interesting things I learned in 2014 as I started this blog, as I came across several talented artists I never even heard of before. One of the best I came across was Tami Neilson, a New Zealand artist who combines country, soul, rockabilly and blues to create a brand of music that will catch any listeners’ attention. Her 2014 album Dynamite! was one of the top five best country albums of the year. Neilson also won Country Perspective’s 2014 Song of the Year award for her song, “Cry Over You.” Needless to say we at Country Perspective are impressed with Neilson and is an artist that is forever on our radar.
So you can imagine my delight when I heard Neilson was coming out with a new album just less than a year later after Dynamite!. But I wasn’t sure if it would be available in the United States for listening or purchase. That’s one of the problems you can encounter with covering an artist outside of the states and you may have to wait over a year to get it. Luckily, there’s no wait as the album is available through Bandcamp for listening and purchasing. It’s titled Don’t Be Afraid and the inspiration behind the album is a sad one. This past year Neilson lost her father (also a country artist) Ron Neilson and this album is focused around this large loss in the life of Neilson. And with these deep-running emotions, Neilson creates some of the beautiful music of her career. Don’t Be Afraid is arguably even better than Dynamite!.
The album opens in the most appropriate way, with its title track and the final song Tami’s father ever written. There’s really only one word that describes this song and that’s powerful, from the instrumentation to the vocals to the songwriting. Tami is at her absolute best with this song and takes the songwriting of her father to another level with her vocals. Neilson won our Song of the Year award last year and this song is a strong contender for her to win it again. The upbeat “Holy Moses” is next. Once again you get to hear Neilson’s voice just unleashed behind a gospel meets rockabilly sound. The song itself is your “everyday prayer,” as Neilson describes it. The instrumentation is engagingly great. It’s definitely the type of song that makes you want to get up and dance. “Lonely” is the lone duet of the album. Ron Neilson originally started to write this song 20 years ago and Tami finished writing it. Fellow New Zealand country artist Marlon Williams, who is another artist worth checking out, joins her on the song. Their voices go together perfectly, as they both have a throwback sound.
The mysterious feeling “So Far Away” follows. And while it has a mysterious vibe, it also feels so familiar too. It’s a western desperado journey meets a soul search. Words really can’t describe it, as this is one of those songs you have to feel to understand. Neilson reflects on love and family in “If Love Were Enough.” She ponders throughout the song if she’s loved the people around her enough and how time seems to fly by so fast that you wish you could have had one more day with the person you loved. You can feel the emotion from Neilson in this song, as she longs for another day with her dad. And I’m sure this song will make many listeners feel the same about a lost loved one.
Neilson channels her soulful, gospel side again with “Bury My Body.” This was apparently the last song her father ever heard and his favorite on the album. The song is about how your body can be buried, but never your soul. A person can die, but their spirit and impact can felt for years to come. “Loco Mama” is a Latino-flavored, fast song that shows off Neilson’s fun-loving side. It’s a nice change of pace in an album full of somber ballads about life and death. Neilson further explores her feelings of grief over the death of her father in “Heavy Heart.” She has a heavy heart now and knows it will take time for her wounds to fully heal. The pedal steel guitar that lingers throughout the song, along with the strings production, gives this song a perfect feel for the theme.
“Only Tears” is your classic heartbreak ballad. Neilson wrote this song with the album’s producer Delaney Davidson and I’m assuming he’s also providing backing vocals throughout the song too. Neilson’s voice absolutely soars in this song. “Laugh Laugh Laugh” is the shortest song of the album. But it’s one worth paying attention to, as the song is about laughing to hide your true feelings. It’s more of a coping mechanism than a representation of true feelings. This is the type of song that speaks to the artistry of Neilson.
Don’t Be Afraid closes with another song where Neilson just lays all of her emotions out about the special relationship she shared with her father from the beginning of her life to the end of his life. In “The First Man,” Neilson sings about how her father was the first man who loved her, kissed her and was there for her when she needed someone the most. She knows no man will fill his shoes and that her life won’t be the same without him. It’s poignant, it’s real and an absolute touching way to conclude the album.
Tami Neilson is proof that artistry is alive and well in country music. She channels her emotion so well into Don’t Be Afraid and the end result is beautiful music that will touch the minds and hearts of all that listen to it. This album is a true picture of life and love that doesn’t shy away from reality. Everything about this album is flawless and at its absolute best. The field for album of the year was already crowded and you can now add this album to it. This is an album you have to hear for yourself. I didn’t think it was possible, but Neilson has shined to a new height with Don’t Be Afraid.