Album review: River of Sins by Camille Trail

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It can take a while to find the best way to start writing about an album. One wants to do justice to the album and, more importantly, the artist, and providing a jumping-off point that hopefully entices the reader to find out more. So there’s some back and forth about which elements to write about first, which adjectives to use, how to frame the review, all while wanting to sound vaguely knowledgeable. And all that to embellish what one really wants to say – which, in the case of Camille Trail’s debut album, River of Sins, is that this is a great album, she is an exceptional artist and no matter what your musical genre preferences are, you will find so much to love in this album and take it into your life, because Trail gives you the time and space to meet her inside the songs.

So, with that out of the way, let’s get to the details of River of Sins. The title is short but it signifies much about this album: the flow of musicality and of Trail’s voice, and the fact that this album addresses not just serious themes but the nature of being human itself – what it is to sin, what it is to love, what it is to be. Trail has stated that she wanted to write songs that had more to say than just ‘he broke my heart’ and, while there is some heartbreak on River of Sins, it is just one of the elements of life explored rather than being the focus.

It was clear when Trail released her debut single, ‘Humming Chain’, in July 2019 that she was going to be doing things differently. Lyrically and musically, the song was a statement of seriousness but also of quality, and as she continued to release singles including ‘Devil’s Drink’ and ‘Little History’, that quality persisted (all the singles are on the album). Her most recent single release, ‘I Know I’m Hard to Love’, shifted our perception of her again. It is spare without being sparse, and its power hits you right in the middle of the chest, as does track 6, ‘Mary’. ‘Mary’ is the song that gives us the biggest clue yet as to Trail’s real identity: she is not an old soul so much as an ancient one, not a ghost from another millennium so much as a time traveller. Hers is a voice not of the ages but of epochs, primal and familiar while also containing mysteries. A voice like that does not exist as an instrument separate to everything else; it has to come from the singer, and in Trail’s case that’s a singer who understands which sorts of songs are best embodied in that voice.

It helps too that Trail has a producer who understands how to bring forth the universe contained in that voice. Shane Nicholson was an artist whom Trail grew up listening to during her younger years on a cattle property near Rockhampton in Queensland/Darumbal country, and after Trail wrote the songs on this album late at night, after her lessons at JMC Academy in Brisbane, she approached Nicholson about producing them. One of Nicholson’s great talents as producer is identifying an artist’s strengths and constructing a song in such a way that they’re brought forth without upsetting the balance of the other elements, and that’s what he’s done with Trail’s voice. He also sings with her on the third track, ‘6 O’Clock’. Because Trail’s vocal identity is so strong she can hold her own with Nicholson, and with Brad Butcher on the last track, ‘Holding Pattern’, both of them men with their own distinctive sounds.

River of Sins contains light and shade, some whimsy and some seriousness. In some moments it feels like we’re in church, in others that we’re outside in the sun, making merry. It was quite an achievement to convey so many human experiences in just over half an hour, but when the intention is there – as it seems to have been with Trail – and that is married with talent and application to the task, that achievement is not just possible but inevitable. There is something about Camille Trail that feels inevitable: her music is so well formed that she seems to have always been here. But let’s be glad she’s arrived here and now, right when we need her to give us this beautiful, earthy, timely album.

River of Sins is out now through Compass Bros Records.

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https://www.camilletrail.com