Heather Nova

The Jasmine Flower

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Recorded entirely on a solar-powered laptop in her homeland of Bermuda, singer/songwriter Heather Nova has gone as back to basics as possible for her seventh studio album, The Jasmine Flower. Apart from the rather out of place finale "Always Christmas," a fully orchestrated alternative festive song which follows the alt pop/rock template of her '90s classics Oyster and Siren, only her emotive tones, plaintive acoustic guitar, and occasional flourishes of strings (from the U.K. Raven Quartet) break the silence on 11 stripped-back, haunting ballads. It's a brave concept which allows Nova to prove she's as gifted a storyteller as any of her Lilith Fair contemporaries, as evident on the political blues of "Every Soldier Is a Mother's Son," which sees her battle with someone "who believes the world will be a better place after this war is won," the sparse folk of "If I Should Die," a contemplative view on the fragility of life ("life in each hour is delicate as the jasmine flower in my hands"), and the opening track "Ride," a gentle fusion of calming guitars and mournful strings which exposes an air of vulnerability ("I need a stranger to tell me I'm beautiful"). But other than the slightly funereal "Out in New Mexico," and the enchanting, lilting melodies of "Out on a Limb," the album's constant stark and sorrowful production starts to get a little tired, and although Nova's ethereal and often acrobatic vocals are still as impressive as in her '90s heyday, they often stray too far toward self-indulgent banshee territory. Indeed, it's a huge relief when the driving drumbeat kicks in on the jaunty yuletide closer, and if Nova could have mixed a few more similar uptempo numbers in with the constant introspection, the album might have avoided turning into the chore it unfortunately becomes.

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