Album Review

Nancy Hess - Away

Nancy Hess - Away (1998)

Oregonians love to complain about the impact of transplanted Californians on their Eden -- gridlocked highways, escalating property values, the "Californication" of the urban landscape. But the northbound migration has paid one dividend: an infusion of talent to the Portland music scene. Singer-songwriters are finding they can earn a living and even thrive in Portland doing it themselves. Luther Russell, Fernando Viciconte, Warren Pash and now Nancy Hess fled California and the music industry to make their own records in the Rose City. And this is good news for anyone who appreciates earnest songcraft. When Hess' former band, Seven Day Diary, left Warner Bros. after two records, she headed north on I-5. She wrote a fine batch of songs and took them to a new home studio run by Gregg Williams (ex-drummer for Little Women and Pete Droge). Co-produced by Williams and Hess, the record features Hess on guitars, Williams on drums and an assortment of Portland's best roots-rock players, notably Jeff Trott, who moved to Portland from the Bay Area after gaining renown as a guitarist and songwriting collaborator with Sheryl Crow. Proving once again that you do not need a major-label budget to make a great-sounding record, Away boasts excellent production, passionate singing, fine playing and consistently good songwriting. Frequently, as on "Last Goodbye", a dark lyric ("You're the dead part of me that I can't bury/I guess you'll never leave me now/That's what I always wanted anyway, isn't it?") is offset by Hess' hooky guitar lines. While Away doesn't exactly rock, its guitar and pedal steel parts are strong, and Hess' breathy vocals are irresistible. Many of the songs discuss broken relationships in the first person, but these aren't your typical woe-is-me victim songs. This woman is in control of more than her career. On the title track, she sings: "Hey do what's natural and put the blame on me/I don't want to love you anymore/I'm giving up on you/I am wishing my love for you away." Independence seems to fit Nancy Hess quite well.