Bella White — Among Other Things
It was the voice that got me first. Hearing Bella White sing “The Way I Oughta Go” last fall reminded of hearing Colter Wall or Ian Noe for the first time – not that they sound like each other, but White, like Wall and Noe, seems to hail from long-hidden country music colony where soulful voices and heartrending songs exist in equal measure. As one does, I dove into her previous work (including 2020’s Just Like Leaving and a haunting YouTube cover of Guy Clark’s “Dublin Blues”), I also got word of a new album headed our way. Among Other Things is here (out April 21), and it finds a young artist fully embracing her voice, her sound and her heartbreak.
White does share one characteristic with Wall – they’re both Canadian. But while his cowboy songs feel at home in his native Saskatchewan, the ranches in Texas or pretty much any agriculture-rich world in between, White’s songs seem hewn by lonely Appalachian hands.
A likely explanation for this comes up in “The Way I Oughta Go.” The album’s first track explores possible escapes for White as she reckons with a broken heart – “Yet another sleepless night, no dreaming/I woke again to the absence of your words” – while listing Southern destinations. Turns out her father, a native Virginian, was a bluegrass musician (and a heartbreaker in his own right), and that string band sadness buried itself deep in his daughter’s bones. The acoustic and fiddle-lashed tune sets the table for a record full of regret while detailing White’s search for happiness – “Dreaming never met me in Alberta/So I packed my things, Tennessee I did go.”
In addition to her voice and the perfectly simple arrangements, courtesy of producer Jonathan Wilson and featuring contributions from the likes of Erin Rae and Big Thief’s Buck Meek, the songs on Among Other Things dwell on the smallest of observations of love and loss. “Flowers on My Bedside,” along with a great bass line from Gabe Noel, suffers with love’s wasted energy – “I’m so good at spending all my love on/Those whose love for me has dried.” “Break My Heart” is bouncier and features B-Bender guitar work from Wilson (which resembles pedal steel), but even the buoyant tempo won’t lift White’s spirits – “I knew I was gonna love you/For a while, you thought you wanted me to.” And “Marilyn” is a piano-led ballad which balances empathy and outrage – “I still cannot comprehend/All the sadness that I feel for sweet Marilyn” – over a woman White’s never met, yet knows deserves better than her loutish husband.
This is a record, too, that burrows itself under your skin with each listen. I’d been enjoying it plenty while driving around the Colorado mountains all winter long, but it took sitting down and listening intently to gain full appreciation of the depth of Among Other Things. That comes out best in “Dishes,” a lazy-day tune which benefits from Rae’s background vocals, Patrick M’Gonigle’s fiddle and Wilson’s National Resonator guitar, but really hits home with White examining her own romantic struggles – “I got so good at running far/From all the things that I set out to fear.” Folks – she’s 22. But she writes country weepers like someone decades older who’s seen (and felt) far too much. Here, the music stays hushed, almost afraid to break the reverie as White enjoys hazy memories of the simplest kind of happiness – “You were there in the kitchen, doing my dishes.” Those are the tiniest moments that love – and heartbreak – are made of.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Dishes” is my favorite song on the record, but it’s more of a quiet-moment tune. The title track, with lots of piano, bass and fiddle, gives her band a chance to shine along with her voice, which still pines for a better place – “Today I woke up, but tomorrow I’ll sleep/Only to find someplace that I’ve not been/For in my dreams, the road’s less broken.”
Among Other Things was produced by Jonathan Wilson, recorded by Grant Milliken, mixed by Wilson and mastered by Paul Blakemore. All songs written by Isabel Farley White. Additional musicians on the album include Wilson (drums, percussion, B-Bender, National Resonator, electric guitar), Gabe Noel (acoustic bass, Ampeg Baby Bass, baritone guitar), Omar Velasco (nylon acoustic guitar), Buck Meek (electric and nylon guitar), Patrick M’Gonigle (fiddle, violin, tenor guitar), Drew Erickson (piano, Hammond organ, string arrangements) and Erin Rae (backing vocals).
Go here to order Among Other Things (out April 21): https://store.rounder.com/collections/bella-white
Check out tour dates here: https://bellawhitemusic.com/home/#shows
Enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: Bella White “Just Like Leaving” is Authentic, Genuine and Wholesome