She not only performs but handles the production chores for "It's Up to Emma."
There's a category of songwriting that resides in nearly all genres of music, a theme without borders. The “you'll be sorry when I'm gone” songs. They're powerful, simultaneously mournful and motivational, with a universal appeal and plenty of voices to represent them. A Greatest Hits of Heartbreak mix can traverse an otherwise impossible terrain of styles: from Bonnie Raitt to Beyoncé, The Police to Bob Dylan, Aaron Neville to Patsy Cline. With her recently released new album It's Up to Emma, Scout Niblett joins the ranks, adding her particular ferocious grief to the mix. The album tour brings her to New Orleans on Thursday at Siberia.
Though this is Niblett's seventh album, it's her first release in the last decade of work that hasn't been produced by Steve Albini. Instead, she chose to mix it on her own, and the decision to self-produce feels reflective of what sets this album apart from her earlier work. A pervasive and pronounced sense of autonomy distinguishes these songs, which is also an essential ingredient in any self-respecting guilt trip ballad.
“I liked having so much control. I did a lot of vocal harmonies. With this one I kind of went to town, with myself," Niblett says with an impish giggle. "My voice is the main instrument on this one. The vocals are way up in the mix I turned them way up.”
It's Up to Emma's nine songs open with a gnashing, growling number titled “Gun.” Her voice is deep with a PJ Harvey timbre, and she delivers each line with a percussive hand, building tension through restraint and release. The lyrics are smart and searing, and for anyone who has ever experienced infidelity, they're the stuff you wish you'd thought to say. From the beginning it's clear that this album is a process, both for the engineer and for the heroine. The songs that follow “Gun” vacillate between reconciliation and rage; sparse vocals then layered harmonies; soft lullaby-like cadence then boxing speed-bag fury. The music is made with her voice, one guitar, and a drum kit, but it manages to go through all the stages of mourning, and the complicated, mess of switchbacks that is the road back to yourself.
“There's no separation for me," Niblett says. "When I'm performing [these songs] I'm embodying them. It's not a story. It's my real life, so when I'm singing these songs I'm back in that situation and those feelings. And that's fine. I mean I find it quite empowering.”