It is a wonder that roots music, and especially American roots style music, is most often performed best by musician separated by thousands of miles from dustbowls, check shirts and incomplete beards. And so it was for Scandinavian Americana practitioners The Wife and their third album “Mud” but would it really be that simple?
Normally I like to exterminate vocal imperfection but there was something endearing, even entrancing, about Natalie Johansson’s voice. Never forced, naturalistic but fired, fuelled and fettled by gothic ghosts hell bent on redemption, she burns with an intensity that is at odds with the expectations of the Americana genre. This album, therefore is not actually anything as contrived as folk music or, indeed, some wistful retelling of the dustbowl apocalypse. This is instead a collection of songs reflecting on deeper and darker things and, with the most appropriate comparisons being with the French chanson style, artistic allegories to the twisted out of shape world that we live in where even our dreams are but reflections in someone else’s mirror.
The songs themselves sound familiar, even derivative at times, but that this is mere surface sheen for The Wife have a strong heart. Redemption, in religious quantities, powers the title song “Mud”. Mistrust and frustration, on the other hand, motivate “If You Will Go” and “Hello Monday” is almost a fairytale of obsession driven by forever forwards by force of metaphor.
The subtlety and poise in the musical accompaniment is worthy of mention too but, as essential as a fireplace is to a fire, it is no less than God’s own truth that it is Natalie Johansson’s voice that ignites the wood and fans the flames until the chill is taken forever from the room and your soul is no less than compelled to worship.