Nadia Reid: Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs
New Zealand-based songwriter Nadia Reid was born with one of those naturally beautiful singing voices that others less gifted long to acquire. There are moments on her debut full-length Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs where one could excusably mistake her voice for Jennifer Warnes's (of Famous Blue Raincoat fame) and even Blue-era Joni Mitchell's. In fact, Reid's singing is so phenomenally good that while listening to the album I find myself less focusing on what she's singing than the singing itself; there's an artfulness and sensuality to her delivery that can't help but command one's attention, a case in point “Some Are Lucky,” where Reid's magnificent command of phrasing and tempo is soundly demonstrated.
But in emphasizing the superior calibre of her singing, one risks overlooking the album's other strengths, of which there are many. The songwriting, which encompasses slow blues workouts, sensitive balladry, and harder-edged uptempo numbers, is stellar, and the musicianship's at a high level, too. Lyrically, the songs cover romantic heartache and the stoical acceptance of life's challenges—moving to a new town (Reid lived in Christchurch for many years before relocating to Wellington) and time's passing among the topics ruminated upon. If such territory is familiar, the manner in which it's presented infuses it with new life.
Recorded in July 2014 in Lyttelton, New Zealand and produced by Ben Edwards, the album's ten songs were recorded with Reid and fellow musicians Richie Pickard, Sam Taylor, Joe McCallum, and Anita Clark. They're a supportive group who effectively complement Reid no matter the style of the song in question. “Just to Feel Alive,” for example, gets considerable bite from the guitar stabs that help ground the bluesy ballad's slow tempo and the raw, tremolo-laden textures that boost its sultry atmosphere. Her appetite for material of similarly bluesy character surfaces in “Track of the Time” and “Holy Low,” too.
Reid's Joni side comes out forcefully during “Call the Days,” the vocal connection evident throughout but especially in her repeated enunciation of the phrase “I was so sure...” that marks each verse. “Reaching Through” shows that she's capable of rocking out when the mood strikes, in this case a song whose soaring chorus reminds me a little bit of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's “When Your Mind's Made Up” from Once. Put simply, Reid's songbird voice elevates every one of the album's thirty-nine minutes, from the insistent opener “Runway,” with its ravishing, Warnes-like modulations, to the aptly titled bonus track, “Holy Loud,” a Pretenders-styled raver that ends the set on a raucous note.