Nina Nastasia – Outlaster

January 01, 1970



Starting in folk and slipping the leash, late in the album,
towards wilder, more dissonant post-classical forms, Nina Nastasia’s Outlaster sheathes powerful emotions in stoic restraint. Endurance, self-control, muted strength
are much on display here in Nastasia’s voice which can rise in an instant from
murmur to wail, or finish an operatic climax with whispered, octave-leaping
subtlety.  And, yes, there is plenty to
endure, too, in ten meditations on romantic situations too tangled to exit, too
intertwined to repair.


Outlaster‘s songs are more densely plotted than those
on previous Nastasia albums (especially On Leaving), but still too
astringent to be called lush. “Cry, Cry Baby,” the album’s opener, employs
rough, frictive cellos and martial drum beats as its rhythmic underpinning. “Outlaster,”
at the end, builds prickly unease with pizzicato string parts. “This Familiar Way” has
the chilled, ritual sensuality of tango, its long violin solo beginning in
understatement and flaring, near the end, into feverish abandon. Nastasia, who to
realize these songs worked with long-time collaborator Kennan Gudjonsson, the
arranger Paul Bryan and a full complement of string and woodwind quartets, has
stripped all possible latent sentimentality out of the instrumental backings,
leaving, as in her singing, only the truest, rawest sorts of feeling.


The album starts a bit slow, with its most conventionally
folky songs near the front (“Cry Cry Baby,” “You Can Take Your Time”), but
breaks out for the territories in its second half. “What’s Out There” and
“Outlaster” are, perhaps, its best and bravest songs, both framed in the tense, rhythmically compelling language of late 20th century classical
music. You might think, for comparison, of the way Sam Amidon refracts early
American folk songs through the modern dissonances and discontinuities. But
amid his arrangements, Amidon keeps his voice plain spoken and unadorned.


Nastasia, by contrast, incorporates extraordinary variety
and drama into her delivery. Now trilling, now whispering, now belting, she has
a strong sense for when to use excess and when to cut back to nothing. As
“What’s Out There” builds towards a dramatic climax, Nastasia’s voice rises
into the phrase, “Now everything I knew is…” and then, when you expect her to
let loose with the conclusion, she shifts up an octave and very nearly whispers
the word “strange.” It’s a chilling moment, one that stops time and raises the
hair on your arm for a second, and just as unexpected the fifth time you listen
as the first.


Standout Tracks: “What’s Out There” “Outlaster” JENNIFER KELLY




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