River Swimmer (Nine Mile)
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., May 25, 2018
Christy Hays is a writer of the elements. There's dirt scrubbed into the corners of her songs, which emerge as hard pebbles polished by the relentless run of water and time. Lucinda Williams remains touchstone for her gritty vocals and narratives, but Hays' third full-length, River Swimmer, casts those characters in a natural half-light that glows and fades in the waves of her voice. "Don't Let Me Die in California" paces patiently with longing, while "Gloria" finds empathetic redemption in packing up an old house and life. Aaron Lee Tasjan's guitar spotlights the warped, eerie "Atchafalaya" as Hays' voice slowly unwinds the subtle twang of Emmylou Harris, echoed in the first dark waves of "Black River." The singer works with a novelistic intensity in songs that slowly reveal their beauty, never hurrying the portraits that become full lives, like "Open Up Your House" and soft acoustic closer "Town Underground." Christy Hays hints of so much more left unsaid, swimming in the brief glimpses of the river's present, awash in the dark depths of histories unknown.