Album Review – Tami Neilson’s ‘Don’t Be Afraid’

Tami Neilson Don't Be Afraid

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.

Grade: 10/10

Album Review – Tami Neilson’s Dynamite! Will Blow You Away

Tami Neilson Album Cover

The world of country music is huge. I’m not just referring to mainstream country music, the Texas country music scene and the independent world. There is country music being made worldwide. Close-minded people believe it’s just hillbilly and redneck music. Country music though is as universal as rock and pop music. With so much country music being made worldwide, it’s impossible of course to cover it all. As a reviewer you simply keep your eyes and ears open all the time for country music. The best at finding new and great country music is without a doubt Trigger at Saving Country Music. As I’ve said before he was one of the main influences that inspired me to create Country Perspective. And he has once again introduced me to another great country artist: Tami Neilson.

Neilson is from Auckland, New Zealand and is quite popular in that country, winning numerous accolades. She has toured Canada and North America numerous times, even opening up for Johnny Cash. See what I said about country music being worldwide? If you’re a dedicated reader to this site you know I like to venture outside of America and review country music from other countries. And I’m going to tell you before even reviewing Tami Neilson’s album Dynamite! that it’s fantastic. Go listen to it and buy it. I’m going to try to do as much justice as possible to describe how good each song is on this album.

Neilson establishes in the first song, “Walk (Back to Your Arms)”, that this album is a throwback to the 50s and 60s in terms of sound. This song is about a woman in a relationship with a “silver tongued devil.” Not matter what he says or does she goes right back to his arms. The use of the drums and claps in this song really give this song a catchy beat. Neilson’s vocals are great too. This is followed by “Come Over,” a fast paced song with heavy steel guitar and tambourine (I think?). It’s one of the more fun songs on the album, yet Tami’s vocals and the instrumentation are as spot on as the more serious songs on this album. “Texas” is a fun little love song about a woman’s love being as big as Texas. It sounds like something straight from a Patsy Cline album. The Western influences are palpable in this song with the fiddles and acoustics.

Without a doubt the standout song on this album is “Cry Over You.” There are a lot of great songs on this album, but this one is even better than the rest. Everything in this song simple works together in perfect harmony. It’s a heartbreak song and Neilson’s voice conveys the perfect amount of emotion for this type of song. Her vocals are so fantastic in this song it gave me goose bumps. This is without a doubt a strong contender for Country Perspective’s Best Country Song of 2014.

Neilson follows this up with another heartbreak song, “You Lie.” But this one is even more somber and mellow. Neilson’s vocals are once again flawless. This is just another song you need to hear to fully appreciate how great it is. I can’t give it proper justice with words. The album’s title track is about a woman considered “dynamite,” as she will blow up your world and break your heart. The beat and sound of “Dynamite” is infectious and easy to fall in love with. It’s really a mysterious sound and almost something you would hear in one of those old spy movies. It’s impossible to not at least move your head as you hear this song.

Tami_Neilson-4

You get to hear Tami’s fun loving side again with “Woo Hoo.” It’s a short little ditty you can get up and dance to. Think of it as a carefree song to listen to at the end of a bad day to bring your spirits up. If you like a song like Shovels & Rope’s “Fish,” you’ll like this song too. “Running to You” is a love ballad duet between Neilson and Delaney Davidson. I wasn’t exactly sure about Davidson being in this song at first, but Davidson and Neilson actually go together well. The contrast between the rawness of Davidson’s voice and Neilson’s polished voice actually makes for a great sound. On most albums this is one of the best songs on it, but it’s one of the more underrated songs on a great album like this one.

“Honey Girl” definitely sounds like something from a bygone era when your grandparents were young. They would turn on the radio and hear a song like this one. It’s not real fancy in terms of instrumentation, with the fiddle being the most present instrument. Neilson’s voice is front and center in this song. The album concludes with another love ballad called “Whiskey and Kisses.” Neilson is joined by Ben Woolley on this duet. I thought it was another good choice for a duet partner for Neilson. What else can I say? It’s simply another great song on a great album.

I’m glad I was able to review Tami Neilson’s Dynamite! before the posting of nominees for year-end awards here at Country Perspective because she will certainly be considered in a number of categories. It would have been criminal not to include her among the best of country music in 2014. This album is simply phenomenal and I will reiterate this again: go buy and listen to this album. I can’t give it a higher recommendation.

Grade: 10/10