REVIEW: Cheyenne Marie Mize - "Before Lately"

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Cheyenne Marie Mize - "Before Lately"

Meet the next great folk singer-songwriter: Cheyenne Marie Mize. Mize has created a name for herself in Louisville, KY as a member of Arnett Hollow and her release with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy the 10" Among the Gold which featured Mize and Oldham recreating post Civil War folk ballads. Before Lately is her solo debut and it'd a doozy -- 10 songs and almost 3/4 of an hour where Mize manages to pay homage to her musical antecedents and remodel them around her own sensational voice.

More often than not, you'll hear reviewers spread around adjectives to describe a woman's voice. Words like "ethereal" or "gossamer" pepper the review as if they actually mean something. God knows I've been guilty of it. And most of the time these words are placeholders -- they say that something's out of reach, unattainable. There's little that's above our heads in Before Lately. Mize has an uncanny nack for transferring the quotidien into the transcendental largely due to her comfort in contradiction. As if ripping a page out of her former musical collaborator Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's playbook, Mize often sounds cooly aloof while weaving melodic bliss. "Kind" features a staccato riff that blossoms into harmony upon harmony. Whereas, "Lull," the most musically adventurous track on the record, begins with a ponderous piano line and off-kilter banjo which never quite meet except in the melody of Mize's voice which seems to walk between the raindrops. What's virtuosic about the performance here is how Mize manages so many different styles in one sitting. There's a twang to "Rest" that sounds like Emmylou Harris at her best. "Path" harkens to fellow Louisvillian Tara Jane O'Neil's melodic and sonic sensibilities. And even more straightforward tunes like "Not" eclipse even the most accomplished balladeer with their nonchalant lilt.  Every note is well-crafted without seeming too precious. A feat in and of itself.

Perhaps what's so astonishing about this debut is how confident Mize sounds. At first glance moments may feel withdrawn, but all to often, we're looking for an explosion out of a record rather than reveling in intricate subtlety, which is often harder to get to but infinitely more rewarding. And what's simple is often beguiling. There doesn't feel like an inch of effort on this LP, Before Lately feels like a constant settling in, a shifting ever downward. As Mize intones over the opener "Best," "I tried my hardest / to be what you wanted / but now we both see / it was all for the best." If this record is testament to anything it's that it's impossible for Mize to be anything but what she is, which is for the best.


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