The Nields are part of a new breed in folk music. You can hear the Irish folk influences in Katryna and Nerissa Nields' lovely harmonies. You can also detect a nod to today's pop music that colors their music. These influences give them a sound that combines the sensitivity of folk with the immediacy of rock. Their new album, Play, further hones that sound. While no one is going to mistake this band for Hole, they do compare favorably with other artists who are expanding the sound of folk, such as Ani DeFranco (who is even mentioned in the their song "Georgia O").
What impresses me the most about the Nields is the songwriting. Nerissa is the chief songwriter and her songs range from deadly serious, as in the countryish ballad "In The Hush Before The Heartbreak", a tearjerker worthy of EmmyLou Harris, to the downright silly, as in the last song on the album, "Tommorrowland", which is a tour de force that combines many different styles of music. Listening to this will give you musical whiplash.
Most of the songs are midtempo folk-rock numbers and the album starts off with a beauty. "Easy People" is probably the most appealing pop song in the Nields repetoire with great harmonies, strong melody, solid playing and a slightly tongue and cheek lyric about wanting to be around easygoing people. Another great song is "Snowman" which has a similiar theme to the Simon and Garfunkel song "I Am A Rock" but with cold and ice metaphors to describe how the character shuts people out. Very clever. This song also shows the ladies effectively singing in a more "rock" style. "Check It Out" is another song that show the band rocking with more confidence than on previous efforts.
However, there are other songs that show that the Nields still have a ways to go to be effective rockers. "Train" starts off with a distorted vocal and aggressive push by the rhythm section, bassist Dave Chalfant and drummer Dave Hower, but this proves to be just a tease as they revert back to their patented folk-rock style. I wish they had followed through and kept rocking. Also, "Nugehtfotra" is a guitar feedback jam that just comes off limp. Their guitarist, David Nields, has an interesting and unique guitar style, but let's face it, he's no Jimi Hendrix.
On the other side of the coin, the Nields seem to be downplaying the ballads this time around. I think this is a bad move because they are very good on the slow numbers. Just listen to "Nebraska", one of only two ballads, and hear how singer Katryna conveys the wistfulness of this story about a woman with hard luck. More ballads would be welcome to compliment nice pop songs like "Innertube" and "Friday At The Circle K" and the occasional rocker.
Make no mistake, the Nields are a band that are getting better all the time. You put on Play, and chances are, you will be hooked.