You're a poet and you know that
Heather Nova is a woman of pedigree - claims the Velvet Underground and Neil Young as childhhood heroes, shares bills with Pearl Jam Neil Young and Pavement and Bob Mould, records with sometime-U2 producer Youth. She's been compared to everyone from Sinead O'Connor (not so unlikely, but Sinead's a far superior songwrite) to Tori Amos (no so unlikely, but Tori's got a far wider range and a piano bench) to Enya (no so likely at all, since Enya gets overwrought in three languages while Nova uses that old stand-by, English). Nova, actually, recalls an artist like her labelmate Jeff Buckley: Both possess voices you might mistake for beautiful if they weren't so histronic, show-offs who scarifice subtlety for a shriek when a whisper will do just fine.

Nova, according to her young lore, was raised in splendid isolation - on a 40-foot sailboat in the Bermuda Sound; her father also owned a piece of property on the island, which further separated her from the rest of the world. In various interviews, Nova has spoken about being reared on her parents' collection of '60s rock records, especially Van Morrison, the Velvet Underground, and Neil Young - none of which is evident in her music, though they're politically correct enough to garner critics' attention and look good in record-company bios. She them moved to Rhode Island, and New York City, finally settling on London, where she recorded one solo EP, then another with her band (comprised of a jazz-and-classical-and-rock guitarist and a cellist), then landed a record deal with Columbia -a story not unlike Buckley's, coincidentally enough. That she has become something of the flavor-of-the-moment, is, of course, not merely testament to the names attached to her own; contained within her debut Oyster are the occasional special moments, pieces of fragments of slivers of ideas that provide a glimpse at a better tomorrow.

But Nova suffers from that most common of maladies - the young songwriter who believes more is better, who buries the wonderful ideas underneath so much extra instrumentation that's intended to provide "atmosphere" but acts as a barrier that muffles thought and expression. And her lyrics need editing, or at least the maturing that separates bad junior-high poetry from bad senior-high poetry: "You made me a victim in your Christmas kitchen," she sings on one song. "Romeo, you are priceless, lifeless, skipping star to scar to star," she sings on another.

Heather Nova performs October 4 at The Rock.

--Robert Wilonsky


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