Heather Nova at Union Chapel
Union Chapel provides a suitably intimate setting for Heather Nova, whose last album – 2011’s 300 Days at Sea – was pretty much the antithesis of the stadium-ready, new folk music of mainstream and arguably more insincere acts like Mumford & Sons and Noah and the Whale. Having seen another singer-songwriter, the immensely talented Daniel Johnston, here in 2012 we were fully aware of the help an echoey venue like the Chapel can offer a folk act looking to create a cavernous atmosphere. Certainly for Heather, that slight echo really lends her poetic lyrics and generally unassuming guitar-strumming the resounding significance they occasionally deserve.
Powerful yet musically subtle songs like opener I Miss My Sky (Amelia Earhart’s Last Days) are a testament to just how comfortable Nova’s music is in a live setting; her voice soars loudly as much as it whispers longingly, and the difference is made all the more disarming when sung in front of you, as opposed to through your headphones. It’s a shame that this standard isn’t maintained though and after the stripped-down, delicate opener. A track from 2005’s more thoughtful Redbird finishes and Nova begins an increasingly stagnant set of tracks like Higher Ground and Siren, which do little to showcase the range of her voice or instrumental talent and, while maybe refreshingly busy after the vastly quieter beginning, are in danger of veering too close to cheesy mainstream folk that really doesn’t suit her.
The set somewhat manages to recover though, with Nova returning to more subtle and at times stirring tracks like Like Lovers Do and Fool for You, which in their seeming deference to the timeless music of their female folk fore-bearers Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell are at least an interesting listen. As Nova introduces the closing song of her surprisingly audience-requested encore, the fragile and hopeful Until the Race Is Run, one cant help but think that the cliché projected backdrop of swirling colours and abstract trees has done little to conceal or distract from the fact that tonight’s set, and in particular its finale, was hardly the powerful, moving event it was in Nova’s head. It was, rather an endlessly pleasant, inoffensive and frankly unoriginal walk through a collection of songs that grow more dated by the minute.
Photos: Erol Birsen
For further information and future events visit Heather Nova’s website here.
Watch the video for Like Lovers Do here: