Album Review

Missy Raines and The New Hip – New Frontier

 - Error

Hearing accomplished musicians in one genre seamlessly shift into another makes my heart happy because I love a range of music: from jazz to Americana, to pop and R&B. For this reason and more, Missy Raines and the New Hip make my heart swoon with happiness on their latest release New Frontier produced by Raines and fellow band member Ethan Ballinger along with Ben Surratt. The interactions between IBMA award-winning bassist Raines and her quartet, The New Hip, display both awareness in and finesse for music that can drive hard and insistently but then also shift gears to soft, spacious nuances with just as powerful of a musical effect.

New Frontier opens with a melodic pulse of guitar strings like an engine warming the stillness of a cold morning. The first track, “I Learn,” invokes a sense of traveling somewhere, and for certain, New Frontier is an impressive collection of songs anchored in the theme of taking off from a known place in search of something that might give form to an intangible calling to leave. Within that framework, “I Learn” offers a resolution to that calling as much as it does a prologue to the rest of the album: “Every road could take me down when it turns./But on my knees I feel the earth and I learn, oh I learn.” Raines’ vocals here are gentle, sifting through her bass lines and the relaxed rhythm of the other instruments.

The songs on New Frontier take on a clean, modern sound even when rooted in traditional ballads such as "Blackest Crow" or those of Southern mountain music master, Ed Snodderly: “When the Day is Done” and “What’s the Callin’ For.” The interplay of Raines' hypnotic bass lines with the unobtrusive and precise picking of mandolinist Jarrod Walker and the steady brushwork of drummer Josh Fox often becomes interspersed with an intense and edgy sound of guitarist, Ballinger.

However, Ballinger’s guitar work can also convey melodic sentiments. He strums minor chords as a soothing invitation to Raines' vocals in the title track “New Frontier.” The band paints a multi-textured musical landscape, one that suggests the openness of driving through the Great Plains: Walker’s mandolin plucks intermittently, evocative of wispy clouds against an expansive blue sky. Songwriter, Zach Bevill joins Raines in the chorus and background, with “Oooohs---” that trail like a train whistle into the distance. The song could be the affirmation of venturing into a new geographic frontier or, just as well, an emotional one: “I just need directions/I’ll pull myself up from the floor/I’m scared of going/ But I know I can’t stay here.” As in other tracks on the album, “New Frontier” lends itself to the listener’s interpretation.

One of my favorites on the CD is Raines' rendition of Terri Binion’s “Nightingale.” Raines captures the wistful feeling of leaving a place to forget heartache and hitting the long road of night only to find oneself traveling with endless time to fixate on that former lover left behind. Fox provides steady accents for Raines’ bass lines and the “chops” of Walker’s mandolin in this rich and melodic song.

Where You Found Me,” written by Raines and Bevill, is the most emotionally raw song on the album. Raines’ delivery of the lyrics bristles with ambivalence. The listener is situated in the midst of inner turmoil particularly with the refrain, “I don’t want to go back,” which the song indicates as a place wrought with emotional devastation. The musicians’ instruments seem to echo off of one another giving this song a haunting quality. In comparison, the album’s most delicate yet equally vibrant and taut song is “Kite,” by Sarah Siskind. Raines’ vocals bring a gorgeous, nurturing confidence to Siskind’s song, which are contrasted by the reverb of Ballinger’s guitar. Short pauses between verses punctuate the quiet intensity of this song’s affirmation of self awareness and love.

Sam Bush joins the band on Snodderly’s “What’s the Callin’ For?,” introducing the song’s musical theme as he picks his mandolin with intensity - the song evolves into a strongly driven movement with each musician contributing to the compelling rhythm that breaks into a jazzy groove towards the end.  The album closes with one of my personal favorites, “American Crow,” off of Nathan Bell’s release Black Crow Blue, which I previously reviewed on On this track, Raines puts aside her bass and adds only her vocals, soft and wistful on top of Ballinger’s acoustic guitar and banjo, Walker’s mandolin, and the light hand of Fox’s percussions.

Ultimately, New Frontier gives voice to the ways in which geographical senses of place can become metaphors for our own emotional landscapes. This phenomena is best conveyed in the band’s colorful (and country) rendition of Pierce Pettis’ “Long Way Back Home” where the maxim that "everywhere you go, there you are" rings true in Pettis’ lyrics that “ . . . the only difference/’tween a pilgrim/and a prodigal son/is just the difference ‘tween the dream that you began/and the thing that you become.” Missy Raines and the New Hip bring dynamic musicianship and a rich musical vocabulary to New Frontier giving the album a sense of both tradition and fresh modernism.

Visit website: Missy Raines and The New Hip