Nell Bryden – Shake The Tree (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
NELL Bryden’s sophomore album Shake The Tree looks set to heighten the appeal of this singer-songwriter on both sides of the Atlantic despite some flaws.
A collection of songs written and recorded in England, with a setting firmly rooted in the streets of Nell’s native New York, the title is designed to be a metaphor for the way she’s approached her music career, applying a plucky, tireless attitude to everything from touring to song-writing to building her legion of fans.
It was recorded under the direction of Grammy-winning producer Mark Taylor (who made his name with Cher’s Believe in 1998 and has since gone on to work with a host of A-list acts including James Morrison and Lady Gaga) and finds Nell taking a step forward in terms of style, while keeping a classic storytelling structure as the backbone of her songs.
This is immediately evident on punchy album opener Mercy On Me, a country rocker that opens with the telling lyric: “14 days in Maine and I’m thinking about my life, thinking about what lies beyond this date, 14 days of reckoning, the fire and the rage, 14 days to believe I might be saved. They handed me a smoking gun, there’s no release my time has come.”
It recalls the style of Johnny Cash and other classic American song-writers and invests the album with an immediate swagger, which is then partially undone by the more pop tendencies of Buildings And Treetops, a former single, which taken on its own merits, is high on melody and radio friendly tendencies.
It does, however, serve notice of the album’s intention to be diverse.
Three ballads follow, which are delivered with a fantastic emotional intensity by Bryden, but which could have done with being spread out a little more across the album. Of these, Fingerprints stands out as a moody, bluesy, soulful lament about a lost love and a tarnished set of memories, all of which drip with a New York feeling.
The album gets back to rockier ways with title song Shake The Tree, another of its highlights that could well find Bryden garnering positive [and commercially helpful] comparisons to Adele, and adopts a classic soul swagger oo If I Forget, which displays yet another facet to Bryden’s song-writing armoury.
But the ballads keep on coming after that with the likes of Downton Lullaby and Even When A Heart Breaks offering heartfelt yet curiously underwhelming additions. It’s not that they’re bad songs but Bryden is at her most interesting and exciting when upping the tempo and really stretching herself vocally in different styles.
Hence, while Shake The Tree has some truly great moments, it perhaps needed to take a few more risks to standout as truly special. Bryden, though, still does enough to ensure her star keeps on rising.
Download picks: Mercy On Me, Buildings and Treetops, Fingerprints, Shake The Tree, If I Forget