With the sophomore disc What It Is, Heather Stewart steps completely into her own, presenting a disc of deep emotional honesty amid agelessly created music. The album sounds, at once, like the arrival of a completely new voice — and something that’s been with you for ages.
Stewart, singing over a front line of guitarists that includes Marty Rifkin, Joshua Grange and Blake Mills, begins by outlining the difficult choices we all have to make when things don’t go just the way we’d hoped on the title track. “Black and Blue” explores regret over a bad relationship choice with a devastating whisper. When she talks about empowerment in “Stand Up,” it’s not with empty bromides — but with a gritty realism about how difficult overcoming can some times be. And, just like that, Stewart has established herself as a kind of cross between the stark honesty of Rosanne Cash and the enduring mystery of Emmylou Harris. Flourishes of dobro, pedal steel and banjo only bolster the atmospherics — and this album’s timeless themes.
“Tell Me Who” takes a straight-forward tack, as Stewart tries to put aside every blind-alley mistake. “A Little More,” with its cinematic sweep, follows the same searching theme — but with a completely different resonance. “Evelyn” might be the album’s best piece of storytelling, with every detail conveying its own story of grace in a life filled with setbacks.
With “Another Perfect You,” Stewart is honest enough say (and to accept) that some things don’t come back again, and that the chances can sometimes be few. It’s not a mistake Stewart makes with What It Is, however. She’s taken full advantage — of her crack band of musical confederates, of the material, of this often fleeting opportunity. The results are simply unforgettable.