A brilliant singer and songwriter like Zoe Nutt doesn’t often come along. Too many performers, every gender and genre alike, are content to pander to the lowest common denominator in an effort to garner the spotlight to a slice of an ever shrinking entertainment pie. The world is a fragmented place. Entertainment aplenty hovers ever near the ear and eye ready to fleece us of our hard-earned dollars. Zoe Nutt’s concerns lay elsewhere. Her eleven song debut Like You criss-crosses from country, folk, and blues with tremendous dexterity and fierce intelligence extending far beyond the songwriting. The album is constructed with an eye towards posterity. The running order has a definite emotional design, seemingly mimicking the arc of a love affair, and the presentation has an uniformity of sound and thematic intent that makes hearing it one of the best musical experiences of 2016.
It begins with “Nothing I Can Do”, a delicate lovelorn song with a deeply felt vocal from Nutt and lyrics that mingle the specific and non-specific to spectacular effect. Few songs in modern music manage to straddle a line between hitting a resonate, universal note while still crafting an uniquely personal artistic work. The spartan beauty of the second song, “Cry On You”, solidifies the album’s dominant theme. Zoe Nutt is concerned with matters of the heart, but not in a typical pop song fashion. Instead, her work recalls a Leonard Cohen at his stripped-down best with, naturally, a much more gifted vocalist guiding the material. “Look the Other Way” simmers like only an ace band can – the stylishness is undeniable. There isn’t any attempt to remake the musical wheel here, but “Look the Other Way” doubles down on blues clichés with resounding authority and dispatches them with cool confidence that makes it difficult to not listen. “Like You”, the title track, is one of the most lyrical songs on the album and moves with a graceful, cloud-like stateliness with Nutt’s voice rising from the mix like a nightingale’s song in a dream. The gorgeous weaving of the song’s understated instrumentation sparkles brightly on an album full of jewels.
“Bones” revisits the blue spirit conjured earlier in the album but tackles it from a distinctly rustic perspective. The slide guitar isn’t overplayed, as in so many other songs, until it sounds like a familiar trope but, instead, adds vivid splashes of color to another stark musical landscape. Tastefulness is the order of the day here as it is on the earlier songs. Both Nutt and her top notch cohorts play with just the right amount of velocity and never fail to let the songs breathe as their composer intended. Nutt’s voice recalls Regina Spektor’s on the sweetly pastoral “Sweet Tennessee”. Once again, Nutt’s very deliberate vocal style never clashes with her effortless ability to convey sensitivity in every line. Like You, as a whole, is more than just one of the year’s best full length debuts. Instead, it heralds the arrival of a major new voice who will only follow an upward trajectory from here.