When the micro-indie label Socialist released its 500 or so copies of singer/songwriter Nina Nastasia's Dogs in the summer of 2000, it was met with nearly unanimous but unnoticed praise. A couple of mentions in interviews with Steve Albini and John Peel helped create a demand for it, but by then, the record was long out of print and Socialist hadn't the funds to re-press it. Would-be fans had to wait until 2002, when Touch and Go released Nastasia's superlative sophomore record, The Blackened Air. Again she garnered heavy praise, more than enough to warrant a re-release of Dogs, but still the curious would go hungry. 2003 brought her third effort, the spacious Run to Ruin, but sadly, no Dogs. What gives?
Now, four years after its release, you can finally get a copy of Dogs. And while it ain't as good as The Blackened Air, you'd be hard-pressed to call it anything less than brilliant, especially considering it's a debut. Most musicians wish they could release a final album of such caliber, much less have a voice and style so original.
Nastasia and her band play a curious brand of powerful chamber-country rock replete with saws, violins, cellos, pianos and accordions. The songs are at once both as close and personal as candlelight and as broad and magnificent as a clear night sky. Nastasia's plaintive drawl frequently twists into soft whispers but can just as easily explode into sublime operatic bursts. As for content, Nastasia's stories create chiaroscuro worlds that contrast dark sadness with bright hope (and sometimes wry humor). The effect is mesmerizing, whether it's your first or your 100th listen.