Holly Arrowsmith: Remember this Name!

For The Weary Traveller
Parachute Records
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The best new country/folk singer on the planet doesn't live anywhere near Nashville. Try New Zealand. Holly Arrowsmith was born in New Mexico, but was raised and lives on New Zealand's South Island where, at the tender age of 21, she has already won a passel of awards. One listen and you'll know why. There are tons of beautiful voices flitting about, but there's a world of difference between having a nice voice and being a great singer. When given a choice, always go with the latter. I mention Ms. Arrowsmith's age because you'll be stunned at the depth and maturity of her music. She has a classically pretty soprano voice, but she knows when to be subtle and when to be strong, when to be fragile and when to add husky bottom notes. She has drawn comparisons to Joni Mitchell, not because they sound at all similar, but because each makes what comes from their mouths sounds effortless and free. Check out Arrowsmith's "Voices of Youth" official video and you'll see and hear what I mean. (Added bonus: South Island scenery!)

For the Weary Traveller consists of ten tight tracks. About half of the songs are spare—voice and guitar mostly; on the other half she works with a larger band. "Desert Owl" is exemplary of the latter. It's a fine mix of acoustic and electric and of thematic loneliness and resilience. In fact, Arrowsmith's something of a lyrical alchemist in the way she pens bittersweet contrasts. The aforementioned song contains these words: "The red sun bursts on the mountain high/Spills like blood down the valley dry/Peace like a river extend to me and carry my feet on by/No brother before me or behind/My mind is worn and my body's tired/Peace like a river extend to me and, carry my feet on by." On the title track she sings, "To find comfort, first you must know sorrow/To know healing, there must be a wound."{Note: This version of "Desert Owl" is all acoustic.}

Arrowsmith is equally adroit at setting moods. Her "Lady of the Valley" has a quirky tune and its atmosphere is ominous—mountain music with a touch of Goth. To extend the Joni Mitchell references, call it a reverse "Ladies of the Canyon," a song drenched in foreboding instead of sunshine. But Arrowsmith has an optimistic side as well. Often we hear neither New Mexico nor New Zealand—the inspiration seems like something from the hollows of Appalachia. "Mountain Prayer" and "Love Will Be a River" are in that vein, the latter sounding a bit like a secular, carnal baptism. (And our love will be a river/Flowing out into the sea/Started in the mountains/Where you washed my feet.)  And then there's the stunning "Flinted." When Arrowsmith's voice catches after the line "cold July snow," all one can do is admire that sublime moment. The purity of those tones are rivaled only by the innocence of lines such as "I want to know what the seasons know/There's a time to reap and a time to sow/A time to hold on and a time to let go/Teach me to trust when I don't see…"

Let me repeat: She's just 21, which means she's going to get even better. Oh my!

 Rob Weir

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