Nadine Shah creates haunting, slow-burning songs about loss and regret, youth or life that has seeped away, adding to her penchant for sombre themes with understated piano playing. Having moved to London from the north of England years earlier, a strong Northumbrian accent finds its way into her delivery adding to the rich character of her voice. That voice is the main attraction on her debut album Love Your Dum and Mad, carrying the same heavy sorrow of Scott Walker as he started his solo career, its a voice she seems to have complete control over, the subtle vibrato that rings out on her held notes reveals her years of performing jazz standards.
Joined by producer Ben Hillier, who in the past has worked with Depeche Mode and on Blur's Think Tank, in who Shah seems to have found a perfect partner, adding arrangements that manage to complement but never intrude, sparse enough to give lots of space for her affecting voice fill. He brings in straight forward drums amongst dark and distorted bass and warped guitars very much in the same way Nick Cave musically punctuates his similarly narrative driven songs.
Aching Bones begins with sharp metallic hits and drum rolls. A heavy distorted bass riff underpins Shah's vocals, full of suffering and building for the chorus, as she repeats the song's title, sounding tired and pained. Its an interesting opener, showing Hillier's ear for unique sounds and Shah's more brooding vocals. Previous EP track To Be a Young Man sets a slow pace, trudging along with an acoustic strum alongside the kind of distortion that wouldn't sound out of place on a stoner metal album, all low and murky. The song is almost ready to collapse under the weight of despair as Nadine laments the loss of youth. A stomping snare led beat introduces Runaway, continuing through the whole song like an early Velvet Underground jam, relentlessly driving it forward. The half-spoken verses hide the drama and sense of desperation shown in the chorus as Shah repeats 'Runaway to your home'', bringing character to lyrics that might have looked plain on paper.
The second half of the album sees the piano come to the forefront, Nadine’s chosen instrument alongside her voice on which most of the album was originally written. Dreary Town centres around a simple piano progression, almost drowning in huge reverb making you imagine it was recorded in a cathedral, as she tells the tale of poverty starting out with the George Orwell referencing line 'We were down and out in London/Sharing beds and sharing money'. She seems to share an affinity for characters in dire circumstances adding an emotive weight to their hard luck stories.
Filthy Game and album closer Winter Reigns both display Shah's skill on the piano, never overly complicating but still soulful, a perfect companion for her voice and reminiscent of Nina Simone's more classical inspired moments on Little Girl Blue. Winter Reigns brings the album to an intense close, a piano melody slowly creeps along and builds as low bass rumbles and distant, crackling atmosphere fill in the few spaces Nadine's voice doesn't reach, growing to a startlingly beautiful conclusion.
The whole album may be full of minor keys and sad tales shrouded in a dark veil, yet there is something triumphant in Nadine Shah's powerful voice, maybe a sense of hope, that hints that all the darkness can be overcome. Even the album's title, Love Your Dum and Mad, displays a playful nature behind the bleak lyrics. The album will surely be one of the year's best debuts, revealing a fully-formed sound fitting for one of the most striking voices to emerge in recent years.
Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk