In a recent interview, Lana Del Rey revealed that should there be a movie about her life, she’d like to be played by Holly Macve. Helluva compliment. The Irish singer-songwriter certainly looks the part, with a tough, sultry gaze – and she sounds it, too. In fact, her opulent world-weary tones could almost convince you she’s a classic country doyenne, one that Lana might have listened to as a child.
Born in Galway, the 25-year-old Macve grew up in Yorkshire before relocating to Brighton. She released her debut album ‘Golden Eagle’ in 2017, a quieter, lonelier affair, centred on the song-writing. Second record ‘Not The Girl’ devotes the same level of attention to the sonics, stepping from a small-town saloon to the epic promise of the wide, blowing road.
Macve wanted things bigger and dreamier on ‘Not The Girl’, and strode out to get just that, with all the grit of a cowboy new in town. The album’s production is shinier than a pair of boot spurs, with plenty of pedal steel, Bill Ryder-Jones on slide guitar, and Collin Dupuis – who mixed Lana’s ‘Ultraviolence’ – on mixing duties in Nashville. And though pioneers like Gillian Welch, Scott Walker, John Cale, and PJ Harvey inspired Macve’s writing here, Townes Van Zandt’s lonesome darkness carries over from her first record.
At least, the album starts out that way. A draught of country noir, warmed by pledges of love and silver-screen vocals. Her Patsy Cline drawl skims along the surface then plunges to subterranean depths – like the ‘Bird’ of the opening track. “And my heart’s been hurtin’ but my eyes now see, everything I’ve been missing is everything I could be,” Macve sings, moving from past troubles to future hope, “everything I’ve been missing is everything you give to me”. Piano-led second track ‘Eye Of The Storm’ builds into a deep, yearning romance: while everyone else is waiting for “something better than life”, she’s just waiting “in the eye of the storm – and nothing’s gonna change my love for you”.
But a long shadow looms. Fifth track ‘Daddy’s Gone’ deals with the death of Macve’s estranged father, and she unknots her emotions through song. From its wall-of-sound beginning, the track inches closer and closer to something more like the Velvet Underground. By the song’s finish, the album is lined with a thin layer of grit thrown up by the road.
The mood doesn’t alter totally, though. ‘Little Lonely Heart’ is the string-swooping sequel to Lana’s ‘Bel Air’, replete with Lana-worthy lines like, “I’m as bad as you want me to be.” Anna Calvi-esque ‘Sweet Marie’ briefly explodes from moody fuzz into accordion joy, Celtic folk displacing the emptiness of a desert lane before retreating back into the shadows. ‘Who I Am’ tunes into pop territory – “how long ‘til I learn to stop waiting and start walking?” – but classic murder ballad ‘Behind The Flowers’ proves that darkness is never far away.
When the album ends, you emerge blinking, as if exiting the cinema on a bright day. Macve’s music plays with movielike worlds inhabited by the likes of Lana Del Rey, a Nashville sound colouring powerful, stark stories. ‘Not The Girl’ isn’t a country record: more like country grunge, determination tinged with fatalism and never the other way around. Or what Lucinda Williams would call a “little bit of dirt mixed with tears”, before skidding off down that gravel road.