Openly inviting comparisons to her 1994 international debut, Oyster, Heather Nova has christened her tenth album Pearl. Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the debut's release, Pearl welcomes back Oyster co-producer Youth, and with him a return to more rock-minded arrangements following the mellower The Way It Feels (2015). Further comparison reveals a maturity earned from the Bermudian's over two decades as a Top 40 act in Europe. Rotating folk-inflected ballads, lively guitar-based pop, and harder rock -- all much in the fashion of Oyster and other Nova sets -- Pearl is tied together by a sense of empowerment partly inspired by having divorced, embraced being alone, and found love again while writing it. Unrelated to this part of her love life but very much part of her personal one, the poignant "Over the Fields" is a sequel of sorts to Oyster's "Island," about an abuser. "Over the Fields" responds to a sense of closure gained from having reached out to the same man after nearly 30 years, offering forgiveness and receiving a heartfelt apology in return. The gentle ballad mixes instruments including light drums, strummed acoustic guitar, piano, and an electric-guitar countermelody to Nova's lilting lead. A blend of electric and acoustic textures appears throughout the album, including on the similar "Rewild Me" (about the songwriter's newfound connection to nature), which unlike "Over the Fields," develops into a cymbal-crashing power ballad replete with guitar solo. She inhabits a more foreboding, simmering noir on "Some Things Just Come Undone," and "All the Rivers" opts for driving, yearning hard rock ("I just want time to stand still/I want time to bring you closer me"). Moments of triumph and nuance are offset by some sameness in terms of arrangements and melodic tendencies as the album progresses, but taken together, Pearl's rallying spirit sets it apart from much of Nova's catalog.
by Marcy Donelson