Heather Little - By Now

Need To Know


With BY NOW, her second album in a career that stretches back more than twenty years, East Texas singer-songwriter Heather Little appears in front of us wholly herself, seeming to say: ‘Like it or lump it.’ And thanks to a honeyed, lived-in voice filled with all its cracks and creaks, a bit of twang, and the occasional tear and smile, I really, really like it. What makes Heather’s announcement of herself so profound is the way it acknowledges that she’s still figuring things out. Her songs are full of beautiful contradictions, internal struggles, heartbreak, and grief mixed with courage and resilience. What makes BY NOW so impressive is that it really doesn’t sound like any other album. Though her songs mine familiar country tropes, her lyrics are too weighty, too literary, too cerebral, to ever be successful in a country industry obsessed with putting boots in the backsides of foreigners or checking tractors for ticks. There’s a quiet hope to her work, a sign of often-hidden inner strength, as she captures the senselessness of human relationships in her music. When an artist sincerely aims for a work that is both life-affirming art and an inclusive societal statement, it is difficult to question motive, but delivery certainly is fair game. One of the things I like about this record, is it does have some of the raw tension that I would associate with a Miranda Lambert, but it also has some of these very, very deep songwriting instincts that typify Lori McKenna or Gretchen Peters. With occasional cinematic and organic acoustic soundscapes as a backdrop, the album plays host to thought-provoking lyrics and inspiring melodies. More than just a showcase for a master class in how production aesthetics can accentuate an artist’s sound, this album is also a batch of 13 really cool songs that grow in stature with each listen. 

Heather Little is masterful at setting a scene, her songs filled with the kind of vivid details that make them feel real enough to take shape right in front of your eyes. She does it best this time around with Transistor Radio, as she links somewhat dis-connected life-changing happenings into a subtle diatribe against our reliance on the impersonality of social media. This is as compelling and memorably melodic as any other of her soul-purifying songs and is etched with a unique combination of background voices with inventive percussion and stunning guitar work. She also explores her sonic capabilities with Razor Wire, sneaking up on us with the prettiest shimmery melody tinged with acute sadness. She retraces lives of upheaval, abandonment, and the pain it can cause. With haunting fiddle and delicate harmonies courtesy of Leslie Satcher, this is immaculately constructed in a way that utilises space to create a mood and let each instrument breathe and have standout moments.

The delicacy of My Father’s Room turns the subject of domestic abuse into a subtle, yet painful story of a woman who courageously overcomes a dire situation with grace and strength. Despite the subject matter, Heather’s delivery is low-key—one for people witnessing in mute horror the ways our families can sometimes fail us. Empowering and emotionally charged, her searing anthem Gunpowder And Lead is a rebel yell for women everywhere—a dynamic upheaval subverting an abusive relationship and taking drastic action in order to be unapologetically strong and true to oneself. Co-written with Miranda Lambert, who scored a top 10 country hit in 2008, this stripped-down, but more organically powerful rendition, includes a second verse that Heather wrote after Miranda left the writing session, so never included on her recorded version.

Mention should be made of the superb production created by Brian Brinkerhoff and Frank Swart, the skilled group of musicians including Duke Levine, Russ Pahl, Paul Griffith, Kevin Barry, Joe Newberry, Eamon McLoughlin, etc, plus guest harmony vocalists Patty Griffin, Van Plating, Ronnie Bowman, Leslie Satcher, Crystal Bowersox and Rusty Van Sickle. BY NOW proves that while Heather Little may be twenty-odd years into her journey, she is solidly serving up a thoughtful and delicious portion of nourishment for one’s soul. From start-to-finish, this is an emotional, life-changing listening experience. If you missed out on it upon release last month, do yourself a favour and check it out tout suite.


May 2024