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Spooky sonnets from
Boston songbird

Marissa Nadler - Little Hells
(Kemado Records)
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: April 21, 2009
Marissa Nadler

Review by Tony Bonyata

On her latest full-length album, Little Hells, Bostonian singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler continues to produce the dreamy atmospheric folk music that she mined on her three previous releases. While the title, along with the fact that much of her subject matter is steeped in the darkness of American Gothic imagery, suggests that this might be a nightmarish affair, it's actually more like slipping slowly into a hazy daydream.

The songs that make-up this collection are simple folk-style ballads, yet with Nadler's angelic voice and ethereally arrangements - led primarily by acoustic guitar or piano and augmented by lap steel guitar, Theramin and Wurlitzer organ - the results are other-worldly. The album opens with the dreamy "Heart Paper Love" and lightly floats into folk ballads such as "Rosary," "Ghosts & Lovers," "Brittle, Crushed & Torn" and the title track, that all soar with a boundless spaciousness.

Even when things get a little more poppy and up-tempo, as on synth-driven "Mary Come Alive" and the Americana-flavored "River Of Dirt," Nadler's voice, treated with a slight reverb, lends an unquantifiable eeriness. Of course things don't get any eerier than on the spooky sonnet "Loner," that by mid-song incorporates a hallucinatory carnival organ. Nadler's whispering coo also channels the spirit of Neko Case - only sapped dry of the effervescent joy that emits from that songbird's lips.

While Marissa Nadler's Little Hells doesn't conjure up the fire-and-brimstone the title might suggest, it's oddly affecting unearthliness keeps it languishing in some sort of musical purgatory, just out of reach of both heaven and hell.

Watch Marissa Nadler - "River of Dirt"

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