At the beginning of Lizzie No’s new album, “Hard Won,” her clear, strong voice rings out on the track “Crying Wolf.” The timbre of her delivery is delicate and familiar, full of a energy that powers the album at every turn. It helps to document the singer’s journey in a world that is full of false starts and pitfalls, especially for an artist trying to make it as a songwriter and performer. Her lyrics paint that picture from the start:
“I wore out my lungs with crying wolf
From now on I’ll keep my wailing to myself
I’ll wait until the band is packing up
Then I’ll ask for mercy and I hope that there’s enough
Second track “The Mountaineer” demonstrates the beauty and poise of Lizzie’s harp work among lyrics of displacement and traveling. The track is undeniably catchy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a director used it in the soundtrack to a movie about traveling and finding a new life: “We’ve given up being good. We only want a different point of view” she sings, before returning to the natural imagery that dominates the song. It is a poem that laments the contrast between our lives and the beauty and tranquility of nature:
“We’ll camp in the place where the highway won’t find us
Then sway with the earth gently waltzing beneath us
Believe it or not it’s the closest we’ve come
To the beautiful places we wish we came from”
Despite picturesque lyrics and her multifaceted voice, the album begins to lose steam halfway through. It’s no fault to the songwriting, though. Lizzie No’s songs are good, but can’t seem to fully evolve musically. Instead, they fall flat, choosing to play it safe rather than take the risks that could make the album stand out, perhaps with a more innovative production or idiosyncratic approach to composition.
“100 rooms” is an exception to that; the song delightfully plays with rhythm and a repeating harp line as Lizzie slowly builds the songs around her evocative lyrics. The low-key groove matches perfectly with Lizzie’s voice, making this track stand out from the more typical folk styles that populate the rest of the album. The only unfortunate thing is that the track cuts out at only two and a half minutes, leaving one of the most colorful parts of the album behind just as it is building steam.
Despite her tender melodies and heartfelt lyrics, the music that runs through “Hard Won” doesn’t quite have the energy and uniqueness to stand out among other folk artists. Lizzie’s harp is rarely featured throughout the album, which seems a shame. When it does take center stage, the songs seem to come to life, pulling the listener into the dynamic sound of the performer.
As a whole, “Hard Won” is an enjoyable listen, though many of the compositions, save “100 rooms” feel like run throughs of the standard fare expected from a contemporary folk artist; rolling drums, warm guitars, and aching violins present throughout the track list. Those who are looking for such an album, though, will find Lizzie No’s release to be a thoughtful and pretty journey through the ups and downs of life.