Sorting through the liner notes of Nina Nastasia’s latest album, You Follow Me (FatCat), one could be forgiven for any underwhelming expectations that crop up before giving the album a listen. There will obviously be Nina’s smoke gorgeous voice, and her brittle and cracked like clay acoustic guitar. But she backs herself by Jim White; a lone drummer who hits the skins for Cat Power, Will Oldham, Nick Cave, and the eerie agriculturalist trio, the Dirty Three. This kind of skimpy collaboration has spelled pay dirt for bands that draw a little more juice through their chords. But perhaps this effort might be a little too stripped down to the creaky old skeleton. Rest assured, however. Nastasia and White provide ample reason to question any pretenses that might exist the moment the album begins.
Much of You Follow Me starts in a beatific gutter, a place where White flutters in succinct bouts of unorganized pitter pat in the background, while Nastasia coos front and center lines like, “You have plenty of wine you can offer me a drink. I’ll say I’m wise to you, I know what you must think. Then we’ll barely speak” (“The Day I Bury You”). So often, however, White gracefully pulls Nastasia out of it, leading her (No, you follow me!) from quiet and creaky canyons to rather drastic heights. Look no further than the percussive playgrounds White scatters around in “I Write Down Lists”. It’s seems out of synch at first, but once locked in the two take off. Opener “I’ve Been Out Walking” seems equally destined for the ceiling, though it ultimately fizzles.
While it all might sound as if White’s name ought to be slid ahead of Nastasia’s on the spine, You Follow Me hardly suffers from an identity crisis. White certainly whips up a percussive stew at times. But when the moment calls for it, he sets it all aside. Collaboration equals twin billing, and this record’s got it. Nastasia is at her best on windswept haunts like “The Day I Would Bury” and the understated “There Is No Train”. Perhaps the pair’s only misfire is when they take a somewhat ordinary journey down the straight and narrow on “In the Evening”. But even it will make you wish you never doubted You Follow Me. - David Pitz