I have a big place in my heart for female folk singers. I listened to Michelle Branch’s Red Album in the car on my way up to sleep over camp in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado when I was 13 and this love has flourished and evolved into an appreciation for Joni Mitchell, the early Nelly Furtado, Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple, Laura Marling, and most recently Kali Uchis. Something about a woman and a guitar to me is the ultimate confession, the ultimate expression of truth.
Lydia Hol’s Heading North seems to strive for a similar kind of self-exploration; heading North into the unknown frontier of the self. But, lyrically, Hol doesn’t push herself at first. Lyrics such as “Your ammunition is my motor,” “Home is where the heart is,” “Life is short but it sure feels long,” don’t really probe or explore as deep as the album title entices.
Even musically, the songs don’t offer a wide variation of chord progressions bar the more jazzy “Could’ve Been the Wind.” The pace and general melody stays fairly uniform throughout the album; which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The songs are comforting and soothing in their own right. You can expect tight melody and beat throughout.
The glory and success of this album lies in “Heading North” and “The Loneliest Word.” They both traverse notions of the self, yearning, desire for oblivion and escape. She demonstrates the eternal paradox of feeling that “There’s a belonging / Longing for someone like a fever / Pulls you in at night” while also knowing that “I’m getting tired of all this noise / It’s a pollution / And its robbing me of joy / You are a fine man who asks too much / I am free bird / Scared by a gentle touch.” The reconciliation of both wanting connection, and yet needing solitude to discover more depths of the self feels like a complex breakthrough.
I’m not convinced that Lydia Hol makes it into my personal female vocalist hall of fame but she does burrow down to her own nugget of creative self-searching, which is healing and important. I only wish she made higher stakes either vocally or lyrically. It misses the mark for me at a visceral gut level.