Neeve Zahra - Country Kind Of Love
The latest artist to release an EP just in time for it to be showcased as Buckle & Boots is Neeve Zahra and on the strength of this EP she is going to be another name on peoples lips by the end of next weekend.
This is an EP that cuts the cake of love into distinctly different slices and from track to track you can never be sure which slice you'll get. Neeve is backed by what sounds like a well seasoned band, they provide a beautifully warm backing throughout with full kudos going to whoever contributed the pedal steel and keyboard sounds.
Neeve's writing is distinctly unlike anyone elses - lines can be exceptionally long and wordy yet at the same can be stunningly direct - while her vocal ability on this EP ranges from the gentlest whisper to something approaching stratospheric,
"Because I Love You" opens to a steady drum beat
and a neat almost laconic guitar riff, it takes only a few seconds before you instinctively know that this is going to be good.
Neeve joins soon after with a voice tinged with an undoubted hint of American twang
"I've loved you from the first day we met
When you were playing in an old bar
With a rock 'n' roll band and no
It's not a coincidence that you asked me to dance
and then we talked for hours till the sun came down and you laid out your hand"
Immediately standing out by not following convention, the band delay going to the chorus to play that opening riff once more. When they do hit the chorus things move up another level, musically it is a sensation - a wonderful warm rich organ sound appears and Neeve vocals steadily rise.
"Cos when I'm with you my whole world seems to change into something wonderful and colourful
It makes me forget when I'm with you, your smile, your kiss, your voice, your lips
all add up to that one thing - that one thing - that one thing - is because I love you"
it is sheer unbridled happiness throughout and kicks things off to a great start.
To have a song clocking in at five minutes duration on your debut EP seems an act of bravado - and as "Love Me" commences there is no hint as to quite what a journey, both musical and lyrical that we are about to embark on. the first minute or so is just Neeve and her acoustic and is heartbreaking.
"We leave the lights on at Christmas - to show everybody you're home
But what they don't know, you're out drinking
While I'm sat in drinking alone, and
I bet you're telling some girl how good she looks
Well I remember you used to say that about me
and you can't even look me in the eye when I force a conversation
When the world revolves around you"
Just as you think you have any handle on what is going on - 90 seconds in things explode with the arrival of a band - guitar, organ and drums all kick in to great effect.
"It's a heartbreak - Is it a mistake to leave you and take my bags out the door?
Only if you told me, that you love me I'd sit around and wait a little more, for you to love me"
Neeve then adds another aspect to the song as she repeats the words "Love me" in the most soulful of deliveries.
The second verse is delivered with the band but still leaves room for that leap of volume into the chorus
"I never pictured my life without you - that I'd never have somebody to hold
and I always thought we 'd last forever - well forever means growing old"
The surprises are not over as Neeve takes the song up another gear on the bridge with the arrival of strings
And I don't know what you're thinking about me - or even if you're thinking at all
Is this really the end now? - Did I mean anything at all?
The final chorus begins at full volume with the band, before ending with the final "Love me"'s, being barely a whisper over an acoustic guitar - this is truly jaw dropping stuff of the highest order.
"The Way I Need You" starts much like the opening tune with an unhurried band intro for a song that is equally as sad.
"No-one ever looks at me that way - I've been looking in the mirror trying to change my face
Will it always be the same? Will I wake up and face the day?"
The chorus is a brutal realisation of the failings in a relationship and why it will never work.
"That you'll never love me, you'll never leave me
Cos you'll never want me and never need me, the way I need you"
The second verse open with some harsh self analysis
Why does it always have to be me, to fall in love with someone so easily?
That they don't ever love me back - but I wish they did"
Neeve delivers those final five words with a vocal that says so much more than the words alone can ever do - perfectly conveying the feeling of wanting and needing to be loved. She also takes us on a beautiful vocal journey over what could just be an ordinary instrumental break, returning only to deliver one final comment
"But you would never understand and it would never work out"
before taking us back to the chorus one last time.
Each track on the EP is a revelation both in the quality of writing and singing - it is distinctly unlike anyone else. "Spotlight" is another song that immediately thrusts the listener into the heart of the action - once again laying down the most haunting of opening lines over just an acoustic guitar - that opening line sees someone in the depths of despair yet all is not lost as the song develops in the most unexpected of ways.
" You took our love and you threw it away I kept thinking I couldn't live a single day on this earth with people like you
I guess you did me a favour cos I found myself when you broke my heart in two"
The band come in on another spectacular chorus which is a complete turnaround on the opening line with Neeve relishing this new found freedom.
"Some nights they just pass me by it's like a roller coaster and I'm waiting to come down
and I'm living the high life and having such a good time tonight -yeah I'm gonna be the spotlight"
Both the "Tonight" & "Spotlight" are gloriously extended, not in an X Factor way - just as an expression of sheer jubilation and freedom
The band are a delightful warm superior mix of heavenly pedal steel, keys and unobtrusive percussion
"You pick me up and you drop me down
From the highest highs to the darkest grounds
You block my light when it was shining through
Back then it was all I ever knew"
Neeve seems to pack more hooks into each song than seems humanly possible and this song is no exception as a new section appears detailing the revelation that has come to her.
"and it was you not me - It was clear to see that everyone was right from the start
and now I see it - it's time to believe that - now it's time for me to be the star!!
This is life affirming stuff for anyone that has been dumped, to accentuate the positives and lose the negatives.
The EP closes with a truly enigmatic tune in "Beverley's Song" which opens to an acoustic guitar and Neeve "oohing" along to it, giving no hint of quite what is to come, for as Neeve starts to sing it appears that this song is most definitely being pointed at someone and we are therefore effectively eavesdropping as Neeve opens fire over a delicately picked guitar
"Do you ever regret what you said to her, about her sweater cause she doesn't wear it now?
In your braver moments out of sight where the moments been spinning around her mind all night?"
In many ways it is an absolute stroke of genius - the audience are immediately both invested and intrigued
What was wrong with the sweater?
What on earth was the comment that could provoke such an extreme reaction that the person would never wear it again ?
What then happened to Beverley?
The chorus continues in a similar vein - Neeve's words seem to being echoed by a faint male voice in the background
"You should really think what you say cos your life is just slipping away and there's no turning back
Might not live to see another day
Your words they can cut like a knife, don't say nothing just be nice
Cos your words can chip away and maybe in your world it's just ok"
The second verse is equally withering, ending with the severest of assessments
"Putting people down is a game to you, cos you got nothing better to do
Because you're sad and you're lonely - That's the truth"
The rebuke is all the more stinging because of the calm yet firm measured way in which it is delivered - Neeve's voice is an absolute delight as she unleashes her savage summary of character.
The song ends very much as it started with Neeve "oohing her outro - All the time the only instrument is her guitar yet such is the inner drama unfolding - nothing else is required. Personally I hope she never feels the urge to explain the circumstances around this song - there is still plenty there for the listener to get enjoyment out of without knowing every tiny detail.
Five songs, pretty much faultless that all go to complete quite possibly ( and we don't say this lightly ) one of the best UK Americana debut EP's ever!! - It really is that good
Country Kind Of Love is available now