Knit to This: Tami Neilson
Kingmaker by Canadian-born, New Zealand-based Tami Neilson is one of those records that immediately makes you start grabbing at comparisons, ways to bottle up a pat description so you can instantly shorthand to everyone you know what they’re in store for. The problem is … it’s a little bit unclassifiable.
At turns, shades of Shirley Bassey and Roy Orbison pop up. Elvis, Patsy, Judy, Aretha. Split seconds of each raise the hair on your neck, but make no mistake: Tami Neilson is all her own damned thing.
She’s a study in contrasts. Listen to the retro, string-drenched title tune a little too carelessly and you might not notice that it’s a big middle finger to the way the music industry treats women, and suddenly Patsy and Judy are in the rearview mirror and it’s Chrissie Hynde in your passenger seat, spitting nails and heading in to “Careless Woman.” A few songs later, she’s selling you some “Green Peaches” with every last ounce of her inner Bobbie Gentry.
Kingmaker is a record full of great beauty: her (more desert western than country) duet with Willie Nelson—“Beyond the Stars”—is as lovely and lonesome as anything Willie ever came up with on his own. I wish I could talk about music a little more academically to know if the reason it works has anything to do with minor keys or major keys or whateverthehell. All I know is it sounds like it’s been around forever. It was in my bones the first time I heard it.
Neilson has been around a while—this is at least her seventh or eighth album. Which means you have a lot of catching up to do. But you don’t need to spend any time trying to figure out who she reminds you of. She’s Tami Freaking Neilson, and that’s just about plenty enough.