Album Review: Bella White, ‘Just Like Leaving’

Shimmering with emotional purity, Bella White’s vocals invite us into her heart as she shares her miseries and her joys; even more, her resoundingly clear tone resonates with a vulnerability so that we feel as if she’s singing every song directly to us.

Self-released last year and re-released this May on Rounder, White’s Just Like Leaving opens with the circling guitar strums and jangly mandolin runs of “Gutted,” which blossom on the instrumental bridge into a front porch jam led by cascading fiddle runs. The scampering song mimics the feeling that the singer expresses about running away from it all: “I often think I could hop on a plane and it all would go away.” No matter how desperately she wants to run from her brokenness, she discovers can neither run away from herself nor her feelings. The album’s sonically sparse title track, with its soaring, mournful fiddle weaving around spry mandolin fingerpicking, resonates with a plaintiveness that comes with the often reluctant embrace of moving forward while knowing that it always involves looking back: “Some things they just like leaving, like people love and money and I don’t know what it’s all running from/ Perhaps the fear of splitting open, showing some parts of yourself that you don’t even really want to know.” “Just Unwanted” opens with fiddle phrases from Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still in Love with You” as it blossoms into a country weeper that’s almost a riposte to the Williams’ song, while “Do You Think about Me” waltzes gracefully with its lonesome bluegrass groove. The album closes with “Now She Knows What It Feels Like,” a lilting ballad whose spiraling guitar strums and mandolin and fiddle runs convey the swirling nature of our emotions, especially during the exalted ups and debasing downs of our relationships.

On Just Like Leaving, we can feel White’s exquisite pain, her brimful sorrow, her tenacious joy in her lonesome, affecting vocals—which remind us, by turns, of Kitty Wells, Rhonda Vincent, and Donna Ulisse—which ride over lilting bluegrass musical foundations. White’s ingenious and playful lyrics fold into musical settings that capture the ragged ways we fall in and out of love and the tentative ways that we move in and out of places in our lives that ground us but which we’re often compelled to leave in search of the next place that’s calling us.

Just Like Leaving is available HERE.



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