EDITOR’S PICK
JANUARY 4, 2011 9:27AM

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 Nerina
Nerina Pallot at Cornbury music festival (Photo by Steve Jones) 
 
You’d think that after the Beatles we Americans would pay attention when someone starts making wonderful sounds across the pond.  Not so. 
Nerina Pallot (pronounced with a silent T) has been a star in the UK for the last ten years. She’s virtually unknown here. It took the British blogger Martin Warminger, the Music Obsessive, to alert me to her.  I’m buying him a pint or two if I ever get back to London.
Since the summer I’ve been listening to her three albums – Dear Frustrated Superstar, Fires  and The Graduate –over and over.  That’s because they have the quality of all great music, which is that each listening reveals new gems. 
I rarely find myself at a loss for words, but have struggled to write about Nerina. I think it’s because her voice and songs are so original, and speak for themselves so well – one song being worth more than these thousand words. 
Perhaps a way to start talking about her is to invoke the goddess who came before her and every woman singer of the last fifty years –Joni Mitchell. Not because Nerina sounds like Joni.  But because her songs, like Joni’s, bravely venture into the still untapped region between art songs and pop. Nerina’s lyrics are intelligent. Her tunes are light years beyond three-chord rock, benefiting from a large palette enriched by classical music, like Joni’s.  They both play guitar and piano. 
Their voices both encompass extraordinary range – not just in pitch, but in emotional tone and style. Both voices seem somehow perfectly married to the difficult, wonderful songs their authors require them to sing. And those voices share a trait which has sadly been in short supply in recent decades – warmth, which radiates from a big heart,  a generous spirit. Starting with Mariah Carey, or perhaps even Whitney Houston,  female voices have assumed an icy quality. This is because they misunderstand the nature of their gift. They believe their purpose in singing like birds is to become divas, to be loved by the public and to love themselves in the mirror of that  acclaim. 
Nerina understands that the purpose of her gift is for it be passed on to her audience, to enrich other lives than her own.  After a dispute with her record company put her second album in jeopardy, she re-mortgaged her house in order to record the record.
Dear Frustrated Superstar is crawling with unabashed pop hooks that evoke the innocent joy of a long lost musical world – dare I say, that of the Beatles. Part of that joy is in fabulous guitar sounds, which are in abundance on her later work as well. What grabs on a deeper level than her pop hooks is the tension between the exuberance in her voice and melodies and the lyrics, which are dark, unsettling. They speak of the pain which must be fueling her creations, and which she transforms to give us such delight. I’m reminded of John Lennon’s mixture of minor and major tonalities, his sweetest melodies tempered with blue notes.
If we haven’t gotten that Nerina’s songs are more than pop trifles, she’s explicit: “But you know my river, and it still runs deep.” Very deep.  She’s troubled in love, but like Joni before her, after something else as well. In “Blood is Blood” she sings:
 Oh blood is blood, and blood will flow -
That's all it does, that's all it knows
But I've one question, I want something,
I want more.
By her second album,  Fires, Nerina is charting territory far from the pop song. Her “Idaho” –a song which I suspect she might have written without ever going there - only because of how much fun she has singing that word – is a strange state indeed, both musically and lyrically. I don’t understand it, but I’m happy to visit, and to keep returning.  
“Geek Love” simply kills.  It starts with a piano dissonance the likes of which I’ve never heard in a pop song, one that insures it will never be a hit on any earthly radio. Yet by the chorus I’m swept away by one hellacious hook.  Not just the melody, but the lyric too:
Hey you, could you give it a rest?
Just take me home, come on and get me undressed
Put on a fire and make it enough
For we're geeks but we know this is love
The danger signaled by that first chord is ostensibly that of an adulterous affair. What Nerina does is to convey that what’s far more transgressive is the notion that geeks might be sexy. And is this song ever.  
That Nerina is not just another pop idol is confirmed by her third album, The Graduate.  It commemorates the fact that after rock stardom she did not get addicted, break up her band, and go into rehab per VH-1 usual, but went to college and got her degree. 
Yet the music on this album is unstudied.  It’s more rocked out than the previous two, starting with “Everybody’s Gone to War,” a fresh take on the anti-war song. 
As Martin has noticed, Nerina has a fine sense of humor. “When Did I Become Such a Bitch?” somehow succeeds in being both screamingly funny and an authentic feminist statement. Just to prove her point she daringly mocks the patented vocal affectation of one of her few worthy contemporary rivals – Regina Spektor. 
The rock songs are great fun, but I’m happiest when she quiets down.  In “Cigarette” she combines exotic production with eerie stacked vocals to create a world even more foreign than “Idaho,” an almost frightening look at human desire. 
Speaking of human, her song “Human” is an instant classic, an anthem for the ages:
Oh-oh-oh, We are not our sorrows
We are not our scars 
We are only human
This is what we are
She starts the third line with an astonishing leap of vocal virtuosity which captures as well as I’ve heard just how hard it is for us humans to be what we are. 
I’m grateful that Nerina is one of us.  
And congratulations to Nerina on the newest creation of her and her producer Andy Chatterly: Wolgang Amadeus Chatterley, born this September 9th. Good luck living up to the name, kid. 
Watch Nerina being herself (!) on her home page, and singing at home without benefit of studio tricks:

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Comments

I thought I knew everyone in music. I obviously do not. I am going to look her up on youtube.
I love hearing new voices to my ears.
Rated with hugs
Everything takes a long time to get a across the pond. Books also, and then the title is changed and the dust jacket is changed and not usually for the better.



stop the advance of the 451s
Thanks for the introduction. Wow!
I listened to Love Will Tear Us apart and Daily Bread as I read this. She is terrific. I can't understand why she hasn't been heard here. Unlike Amy Whinehouse who I also love, she seems to be fresher and has a voice that kills. Thank you, I will be listening to her~~
I have never heard of her, but being a Regina Spektor fan, I will be checking her out. And using this post as a guide.
Amazing. It's very hard to bring something new under the sun to the table anymore. Thanks for the news and the link.

Does LC know about this? (inside joke, she's a resident music encyclopedia here)
Of course, recognizing your expertise as well J! Just wanted to say her .com is 'down for maintenance' right now, so I accessed another site for her sound, and will see her at work at home via a bookmark of her site for later listening.
Thanks for the tip, LM. I'm going to visit her website. Anyone who evokes the legendary Joni....
I keep shutting this contraption off.
Then,
back on.
apology?
Elijah Rising? Tell me what is a 551s?
No question is a idiot-quest. a 501c3?
I agree that many are sham-crooked.
`
This is a wild day, as usual. O, photos!
I went to the farm to borrow a gadget.
I dusted, hid clutter, and took photos.
`
Music.
The Cook Foundation/ From The Top/
This weekend NPR radio is my favorite.
Favorites when I am Listening. Because?
It's grant money for young classical youth.
Benevolent money goes to musical talents.
The Radio host is `Christopher O'Reilly.
The musicians are all youth and gifted.
One six year old 'touched me' deeply.
At 6 -years young She was on stage.
She recalls that adults 'laughed' ~,
But really didn't appreciate ...
When six adults said "Ya cute."
She did not value the expression.
She pledged to be ever "vengeful."
Vengeful?
She was annoyed that adults gush.
But, did not truly appreciate music.
The six year old musician pledged`
To practice to be the Best She could.
At seventeen 
@ FTT Christopher O'Reilly interviewed`
the most beautiful aspiring young musician`
Music does evoke a healing sphere. Beauty.
Somewhere I wrote her name as a note.
But, I lost it. I remember Mozart said`
After listening to so-&-so he walked`
back to a coat-rack for his coat & hat.
He said he found his hat...
But, he could find his head.
Oliver Sacks's book is great.

Farmers burp in F- minors.
Lawyers belch in C-cup toot.
Oh, good grief. Nature loves.
Birds can singsong in jail cells.
Music can heal politico heels.

If I type on a Remmington?
Typewriter. REMM- sleep?
I need silence. Ruminates?
`
I'll head down yonder.
I failed to keep my promises. 
Today, I was to go to the PO,
and mail scanner a Amish hat.
I promise to do that Hat-First! 
I'll Fail to help erect a hoop house.
The hoop house is a green house.
It's 30' by 140. Grow herb chives, 
arugula, early peas, tomatoes, pot?
NO!
TEASE!
HONEST!
No do that!
Look at politicos?
They snort ragweed?
They chew pole cats?
They puff mutt butt?
Behave. okay bye-bye .
I hopes I get therapy. 
I need help cutting,
pasting, behaving,
playing tuba sax. 
I no help erect`
hoop rise up.
No yelp. yes?
no besmirch.
no play tuba.
no play in tub.
no rob rubber?
chew tub duck?
sing solo two?
no hear tuna?
smack d-sob?
son de bitch?
Vengeance?
Nature will.
Loved this.
Beauty you.
off to farm.
cut photos?
no cut wind.
goofy ducks.
quack B`Os.
in B' majors.
I have checked her out on YouTube - well so far just "Idaho". A touch of Tori Amos, a touch of Fiona Apple, but I'm not really hearing Joni in there. Nice song and nice voice though. I will have to get hold of more of her songs and absorb them a bit further. A UK friend sent us a KT Tunstall album recently. I quite like her too. But none of them surpass the Goddess Joni. 

While we're talking of people big across the pond, it seems a few American artists make it big there before they do at home (Hendrix!). Go and look up Seasick Steve.
Oh and another not so well known female voice, but an absolute gem, is Kristia Di Gregorio from Vancouver. 
http://www.myspace.com/kristiadigregorio
Thanks Luminous I'm anxious to go listen.
Thank you thank you thank you for sharing! 
She is luminous on "Real Late Starter", dynamic on "Everyone's Gone to War", poignantly evocative on "Idaho", the girl sings like a breathless angel and plays the shit out of the ivories with more dynamism than I've seen since I don't know when. 
Sheer nerve and verve.
Youtube has an extensive collection.
What a well-written, insightful review. I look forward to checking her out.
Thanks much. I hadn't heard her before.
What a gorgeous review (doesn't feel like the right word) of Nerina Pallot! 
I was already intrigued halfway through and then you mentioned Regina Spektor a worthy contemporary - woot! I love Regina something serious. I've seen her sing three time (so far) & the first time was free! can you believe it:?
rated.
She's new to me. I'll check her out next time I'm doing a YouTube walkabout. Thanks for the tip.
Good write-up, I'm sold! I'm glad to have you scouting for me:) I tend to rely on past chanteuses I adore and never tire of; I just don't have the wherewithall to see who's new. I listened to a few of her tracks and now am caught between how to order. It may be time for me to take the big leap into mp3ville and ipodland. (Even as I am checking ebay for a turntable so I can play my old LPs .God, I'm so Andy of Mayberry! Or am I Aunt Bea?)

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