If I say that the best thing about Nadia Reid is her singing, it's not meant as any disparagement of her equally compelling gifts as a songwriter or musician. It's just that she's got one of those one-of-a-kind voices that's so amazing it can't help but overshadow everything else. That was already evident on her polished debut Listen To Formation Look For The Signs, and it's just as evident on her remarkably assured new release, if not more so.
With Reid characterizing the new material as “a confession to my future and past self,” Preservation is a ten-song meditation on loss, heartbreak, disappointment, and resilience, about weathering personal storms armed with strength and self-acceptance, and envisioning a future better than the one left behind. If a sense of newfound self-discovery is present, it can be attributed, at least in part, to the eighteen months of living and 10,000 kilometres of travel she's experienced since that first album appeared. Venturing out on her first full European tour enabled this New Zealand-based songwriter to connect with her Scottish and Irish heritage plus re-connect with relatives.
The soul-stirring swoon of Reid's voice elevates the opening title track, so much so that the listener is captivated the first moment her singing appears amidst the song's guitar-driven drift; calling her voice a natural wonder is accurate yet somehow still doesn't quite capture how beautiful it is. The second song, “The Arrow and the Aim,” quickly serves notice that Preservation will be considerably more than an album-length exercise in heartfelt balladry, and though the fierce electric guitar textures lend the song a raucous quality, Reid's voice still comes through clearly, despite the decibel increase.
Her vocals especially shine on the ballads but cut through the harder songs, too. And as much as the ballad would seem to be the perfect showcase for her voice, she also likes to rock out, something clearly shown in the heavier songs; credit guitarist Sam Taylor for adding some grit and grime to Reid's tracks and producer Ben Edwards for preserving the album's live feel. It's a rawness that suits the lyrical content, by the way, which does much to convey the depths of her material. That she's able to operate in such familiar thematic territory and still make it feel fresh says much about the music's emotional directness and the power and immediacy with which it resonates.Anything but downtrodden, Reid's songs are by turns quietly triumphant, buoyed by hope, and even at times breezy (e.g., “Right On Time”), and there are some surprisingly less-than-genteel moments on the lyrics front, a case in point the image of teeth extraction and a sink filling with blood in “Richard.” In terms of ballads, Preservation peaks with the quietly devastating “Hanson St Part 2 (A River),” which sees her wry observations (“Every heart has a season / Changes as it grows”) nicely complemented by an uncluttered arrangement of acoustic guitars and acoustic bass. As effective is the ambient backdrop Reid's accompanists fashion for “Te Aro”—even if a vicious guitar stab jars the dreamscape out of its reverie during the song's closing moments. Still, as much as such instrumental touches enhance the recording, it's ultimately Reid's voice and songwriting that hit the hardest on this solid sophomore release.