Nina Nastasia / Jim White

You Follow Me

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What do you get when you add Dirty Three/Tren Brothers drummer Jim White to a Nina Nastasia record? It all depends on what you are expecting to hear, of course. White was part of the spiny little band that accompanied Nastasia on her initial Fat Cat offering On Leaving in 2006. While that record was skeletal, this one is positively minimal, yet in some ways it is also bigger. With only White's syncopated, iconoclastic beatmaking as a foil, Nastasia is challenged to get her songs across with her guitar playing carrying more of the weight. White is not an accompanist here, he is a collaborator, even though he didn't write the songs. In just 31 minutes the pair look into the strange shapes and images that are at the root of her mostly hummable songs and stretch them to the breaking point. Steve Albini recorded the set at his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, and his trademark is on White's drum sound, full of bassy tom toms and wispy brushwork, even as his bass drum and his rim shots color the end of each line Nastasia sings, and creates breaks in the heart of lyrics to underscore a line or two, offering a portal to the meaning of her sometimes elliptical lyrics, or providing a tunnel into the emotion in a song. Topically, You Follow Me has reflections on family, broken commitments, memory -- bitter and bittersweet -- and death. These are bright and shiny subjects to be sure, but Nastasia's voice emits tenderness no matter what she is singing, creating a sense of equanimity in all of it. Her notions of regret, reverence, anger and fear are all offered matter of factly, yet there is no doubt of her devotion to the truth a song dictates. White gets that vocal instrument, and he does his best to point toward it in every song.

Standout tracks include the resigned yet potent and relatively up-tempo "The Day I Would Bury You," a portrayal of marriage gone bad with only the wife's resignation of an end where poisoned emotions are useless tools because the war is over. On the other side of this song, though, is the sweet if gray-shaded "How Will You Love Me?" one of the slowest waltzes ever played (and White is deceptive in that he inverts the beat, playing around the accents of the time signature). The protagonist asks questions about being loved, about loving, about the future, death, and the opportunity for resurrection. The sheer helplessness and anger in "Late Night," as the protagonist plays witness to another's self destruction is almost unbearable, as her words accent that helplessness and the rage it provokes. White's drums don't follow her words; his beats nearly predicate them. He contains emotion and brings it up, out, and over the edge. You Follow Me is worlds away from Dogs, from Run to Ruin, but picks up where On Leaving left off. These songs are sung either in retrospect or at the line of disintegration, their sharp, even fiery words held in check only by Nastasia's innate sense of musicality and melodic complexity. White can offer her edges of his own because his sense of time stretches to the past as well as pointing to conclusions that are open-ended in the future. He floats, digs, sputters, halts, and pushes through the music, just as the woman who is playing guitar and singing does. All of this feels effortless, but it is not: all of this coheres in order to convey these small but mercurial and sophisticated songs.

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