Fantasy Records / Concord Music Group
Release Date: October 8th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
Natalie Hemby– Pins And Needles (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- New Madrid
- Pins And Needles
- Lake Air
- Hardest Part About Business
- Radio Silence
- Heart Condition
- It Takes One To Know One
- Last Resort
Here’s a question that I reckon we all need to ponder over, if not right now, then maybe today or tomorrow. And it is this. What is the right balance in terms of lyrical content on any album release around about now? Considering that the world has been ravaged by COVID-19 over the past couple of years and counting (there will undoubtedly be countless variants of the virus over the however many years), albums and music by familiar and up and coming artists will comfort us and bring us healing. That is a fact. God will use inspirational and Christian themed music in the same ways as ‘mainstream music’, in order to bring us comfort, healing and to draw people closer to himself. That, my friends, is a fact. And during the pandemic, when it seems like nothing is going right, I guess it does bring me comfort to know that there are all kinds of artists, regardless of morals, beliefs, faiths, values, lack of faith, socioeconomic status, gender, race and sexual orientation; who are positive, optimistic in the face of adversity and who actively decide to bring hope, joy and love in a darkened world. in a world where we can’t see a way out, it’s a great sign to know that artists far and wide are using their gifts for the greater good and are bringing us all together.
But as far as how that music looks like to you and to me; well that’s up for debate. Which brings me to my question above: is there a right balance in terms of lyrical content? And if there is a ‘right balance’, then what is it? Should music be all fluffy, sunshine and rainbows all the time? Or should it be dark, moody, serious and contemplative? Shall we have artists who aren’t afraid to dive deep into the nitty-gritty, hard lyrical content, and aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions? Or should artists exclusive sing about partying and having a good time? Well, the answer is, I reckon both ways are fine, depending on your mood. And I guess if you’ve read this site regularly and noticed the types of reviews we post, then I’d say you’ll find out that we like all types of music. Music that asks questions and music that speaks about sitting back and chilling. And everything else in between. Which brings me to this next review- of an album that may not be everyone’s preference. Natalie Hemby’s Pins And Needles isn’t about fun and joy and happiness. But rather, like other artists like Jason Gray, Andrew Peterson, Needtobreathe and for KING & COUNTRY, Natalie probes and probes and probes, asking question after question. And as it does bring me comfort to know that artists like Natalie ask questions about humanity and the human condition, letting us know that we as humans aren’t alone; albums like these are tough to ‘get into’. And thus, you can all hang with me here with this review, and let’s make our judgement later, shall we?
He [Bono] said, ‘Whatever you do, when you have your first successful record don’t buy a house. Then all your money and your creative energy goes into this house that you’re trying to build.’ And honestly I agree with that. I feel like when you become successful just ease into what you can afford to buy. You don’t have to go crazy. Having a big house doesn’t make you happy or having a boat doesn’t make you happy. It does for a minute, but really you have to be happy with your job and your family and your friends. That’s really all that matters. If you can save your money there’s no greater thing than your grandpa needs a new truck, and you get to go buy one for him. That is what makes all of it worth it.
I cannot do it all and do it all well. Something has to go for sure and right now writing has just been a little bit more on the back burner. But, it’s good because when you are putting this on the back burner you are also filling your well back up of song ideas. You’re living life and you’re doing your thing and then you have time to reflect on it and then you write about it.
I feel like my life is going around in a whirl. It’s like all these amazing colors but they’re all blended together and it’s all going by so fast. All my dreams are showing up at the same time and it’s so exciting and so much fun, but I’m also trying to balance it all and that’s a good problem to have.
Natalie Hemby isn’t a household name. she isn’t popular by any means, but after her band The Highwomen received critical acclaim for their debut album, and after Natalie also created gems of songs as collaborations with Needtobreathe and Ellie Holcomb; well, it was time for me personally to check out her music. And let me tell you all, to me Pins And Needles is not a disappointment. You know how sometimes there are albums where there is more than one skippable song? It’s safe to say that Pins And Needles is quality all around and is full of moments that are just heavenly and inspirational. Yep, there’s nothing skippable here. Album opener “Heroes” dives deep lyrically, and features Natalie tearing down the assumption that celebrities are like gods. As Natalie asserts to us that sometimes it’s better not to meet our idols, our heroes and our role models, because we’ll only be let down; we are reminded to not place these people on pedestals, and instead of putting unrealistic expectations on people we may never meet in our lifetime, Natalie subtly encourages us to place value and importance in the people around us who we see and interact with everyday- the everyday ‘heroes’ who we truly know and love.
The rest of the album is song after song after song of inspiration. “New Madrid”, a powerful 80’s inspired musical rock track presumably about the city in Missouri, is full of metaphors, descriptions and emotions about the place that is personal to Natalie. This track I feel, will only make sense to those who live in New Madrid, with the song being a tribute to the place and to the special feeling of camaraderie and mateship; while the title track is a rock track about the feeling of euphoria and ‘pins and needles’ you might feel in the early stages of a relationship, with Natalie describing the feeling of trepidation, apprehension, and the moment where anything is possible. Album highlight “Lake Air”, an acoustic track and slow tempo alternative rock melody whereby Natalie channels Sheryl Crow vocally, speaks about specific moments in one’s life that are pivotal and paramount to one’s development of growth as a person, as Natalie vividly recounts the moment of her ‘lake air’- her moment of growing up; while “Hardest Part About Business”, a confronting and hard-hitting melody, speaks about gossip, and the downsides of talking bad about somebody else- which is the risk that others will talk equally as bad or worse about you and the ‘skeletons’ you may have in your own closet!
Co-written with Miranda Lambert, the traditional country anthem “Banshee” is written from the point of view of someone fighting for their partner, as the persona sings to the ex of their partner, letting them know the partner is off-limits. It’s a song to remind us to always respect the ‘girl-code’ and the ‘bro-code’ and to never covet something that isn’t yours and you know should never be; while the heartbreaking, vulnerable and honest “Radio Silence”, speaks about a relationship or friendship that has soured and grown apart for whatever reason. And as Natalie eloquently recounts that ‘…I tried to reach you thru the growing static, I tried to replicate the fading magic, did everything to keep the signal from dying, all I got was radio silence…’, we are presented with a relationship where one person seems to be doing all the work; and although it may be painful and excruciating, this song reminds us that at some point it’s time to let go and move on, if that person isn’t going to offer up a healthy dialogue and discussion. The equally profound and moving “Heart Condition”, another standout, is an alternative rock song that speaks about someone close to the persona betraying them and using their inner most secrets against them (like a ‘heart condition’ in this song); while the imagery and metaphor heavy rock tune “Pinwheel”, has Natalie eloquently speaking about someone special who has come along and messed up her routine and her life like a ‘pinwheel’, and the conflicting emotions she feels about the situation. It’s an example we all find ourselves in too often, when a friend or a potential partner comes along and wrecks our idea of what life should be. But though this song speaks about living in the tension of staying stagnant or moving forward; the melody in fact subtly advocates for us moving forward and taking stock of our lives. Sometimes it takes a drastic moment in our lives to wake us up from our mundane life; and as Natalie encourages us all to be a little more like an extrovert, we are also encouraged to live life to the fullest with people around us who build us up and make us grow better as people.
The penultimate acoustic guitar led melody “It Takes One To Know One”, is a song where Natalie has found her ‘person’ and can relate fully to them, hence the ‘it takes one to know one’ phrase. It’s a song where she has bared the deepest parts of her soul, and a song where she feels completely vulnerable and at peace, which is a great feeling to feel. With the track also being a ‘sad’ tune, given that there’s this realisation that only one person in the whole wide world will understand us; there’s also this notion of freedom and acceptance- you and this other person have a special bond that obviously can’t be broken, and the tension between having a special person, and not having anyone else, is explored heavily in this melody. While Pins And Needles ends emphatically with the quasi-spiritual “Last Resort”. Written from God’s perspective, but ‘the world’s interpretation of how God acts towards us’, “Last Resort” reminds us of the often-thought misconception that ‘God doesn’t want our prayers and thoughts because He’s too busy’. It’s a trope that is reinforced here with a huge theological misstep… but with the song having even the glimmer of leaning into the spiritual, the best thing about “Last Resort” is that it forces us to have real conversations about religious and spiritual matters with friends and family; and that is a good thing indeed, as it will hopefully solidify our own faith in Jesus.
Sometimes you’ll go to an awards show and you’ll meet somebody, and [your friends] will be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you got to meet them’, and sometimes, in my head, I’m like, ‘Well, be glad that you didn’t’ … We all immediately think of celebrities as, like, these people that we’re just [wishing], ‘Oh, if I could just spend one day with them …’. Well, the truth of the matter is, you don’t want to spend one day with them … Really, at the end of the day, spending a day with your friends and your family is way better.
I saw … how [a record label] can catapult a record … I learned a lot about how to build up your team … And I saw all of the work that went into that. You just don’t know until you walk through these doors what other doors they lead to.
Sometimes you need albums to cheer you up and to make you forget about the world. An album like The Lucky Ones from Pentatonix or Human from OneRepublic are good examples of ‘carefree’ albums that make you feel good. But this album isn’t one of them. Much like Alessia Cara’s In The Meantime, Natalie Hemby’s album is reflective, introspective and full of trepidation and uncertainty. But it creates discussion, so whether this album is for you in the moment, is debatable. The real question is, should you listen to Pins And Needles sometime this year or next year or maybe the year after? I’d say yes. There’s lyrical gold to mine here, and no doubt one song would resonate. I for one love the lyrical richness here, but it’s a lot to swallow. And so Pins And Needles is good in small doses. It reminds us that life is fragile and we need people for companionship. Yet also provides a quietly confident hope for the future. This album isn’t for everyone right now. But it’s needed for everyone sometime in their lives. Well done Natalie for creating an objective masterpiece. For the rest of us though, let’s listen to this at our own pace. There’s a time for jamming out to fun songs. And a time for reflective songs. This album is for the latter time.
3 songs to listen to: Lake Air, Radio Silence, Pinwheel
RIYL: Brandi Carlile, Fleetwood Mac, Crowded House, Dolly Parton, John Farnham, Tina Arena, Rod Stewart, Needtobreathe