Born in Alberta but with Blue Ridge roots, White was reared on a bluegrass diet of Bill Monroe and Doc Watson before heading off to Boston and immersing herself in the local acoustic scene. Now, just twenty and based in Nashville, she makes her debut with Just Like Leaving, an impressive nine-track set, opening with the uptempo picked ‘Gutted’, a song about wishing you weren’t in whatever situation you find yourself stuck in (“So I took to drinking with the hopes of getting lost/For when you’re always losing it’s hard to see your wins/then I start using and I’m numb again”) but realising they call it baggage because you carry it with you.
Featuring Julian Pinelli on fiddle, the old time front porch waltzer ‘Not To Blame’ was written in response to the spite of others who always try to make you feel the guilty one (“You act as if you got the best of me, but we both know you’re acting small”) and how turning the other cheek sometimes mean shouldering the shame.
Brimming with an air of authenticity, a song about wondering about being missed by those left behind, ‘Do You Think About Me At All’ is an ode to the classic heartache songs of traditional bluegrass while, as the title implies, ‘Just Like Leaving’ returns to the idea of running away from things and yourself (“Perhaps the fear of splitting open, showing some parts of yourself that you don’t even really want to know”) but of also feeling left behind (“I left the howling winds and the prairies to find some kind of idea, am I full or am I empty?).
Regret and longing underpin the more musically muted ‘The Hand Of Your Raising’ with its ifs and buts (“It was in the morning when you left, after a night of talking nonsense/I hated for you to leave that way but I watched you go nonetheless… Should I have followed you out the door? Instead of holding it all open”) before the mood takes a shift for the lovely old time waltzer ‘Just Unwanted’ that, featuring Patrick M’Gonigle on fiddle and Alison DeGroot on harmonies, again deals with heartache but in a more knowing light hearted way that pays homage to the classic s of the genre, White sounding somewhere between Iris DeMent and Patsy Cline.
While musically couched in alight trot, things get heavier though with ‘Broke (When I Realized)’, a song she describes as “ about growing up believing one thing and then having your world flipped on its head and being shown something completely different” and recalls having to deal with her parents’ divorce as a young child, “met with the helplessness of being only 12 years old”, realising that it’s not just a bad dream.
It ends with, first, the sprightly fiddle led ‘All I Gave To You’, a song born of an eighteen-year-old girl’s unrequited puppy love, and finally, ‘Now She Knows What It Feels Like’, a strummed waltztime song about being a young woman in a semi-toxic codependent relationship (“that longing look down deep in your eyes was only fueled by the booze”) and coming to the realisation that might include herself too, White proving adept at the country music trick of playing with words as she sings “know she knows what it feels like to fall out of love with you”.
It’s hard to believe that Just Like Leaving is her first album, but, in a field that can sometimes feel oversubscribed with talent, she is a shining new star and this might just well be the bluegrass album of the year.
Artist’s website: www.bellawhitemusic.com
‘The Hand Of Your Raising’ – official video: