Scout Niblett’s seventh album, It’s Up To Emma, opens with a foreboding two-note pattern and the line, “I think I’m gonna get me a gun, a nice little silver one.”
“Gun,” the album’s opening murder ballad is transportive. Niblett draws the listener into the narrator’s anger and hurt as she fantasizes about a bloody end for her ex. “Maybe you’ll be holding her hand or watching her shitty band,” Niblett sings.
Niblett’s spartan and raw style is the perfect complement for a break-up album. Her voice hardly needs any support or ornamentation from the guitar and drums because she easily twists pain, confusion and defiance together.
“She took your love away from me,” she repeats in the chorus of “Gun” as the drums crescendo to a climax where she finally finishes the line with, “and I’m thankful every day.”
What makes It’s Up To Emma so powerful is the shifting balance of each emotion, even within sentences. “You can’t fool me too long,” Niblett sings on the second track. The defiance of “you can’t fool me” is tempered by “too long,” an admission that she was once fooled.
The album goes through plenty of emotional lows. “My Man” is longing. “I wish you could find all you need. I wish we could’ve been a reason for you to believe,” Niblett sings, bolstered by a thin, but swelling string line.
Niblett doesn’t back away from any gory details. The charged “Second Chance Dreams” is furious and fiery, but she’s talking about getting back together. “It’s taken seven long years and I’m still getting wet at the thought that we still might get to run around.”
It’s Up To Emma is so emotionally accurate it even covers the listen-to-old-comfort-songs phase of a bad breakup with Niblett’s cover of “No Scrubs.” The cover is surprising, fun and purposeful making it a brilliant moment.
Scout Niblett’s searing style mixed with the open wounds and complex emotions of a lost love make It’s Up To Emma her best record as well as one of the best of 2013.
Scout Niblett will play Saturday, September 7, at Kennedy Theater during the Hopscotch Music Festival.