To those living outside Aotearoa, the name Reb Fountain is probably totally new, while even those who live here may yet to have come across her, although she has been active since the 90’s. She has been singer/songwriter in various bands, getting up to gig with others (the first time I saw her was when she was guesting with The Eastern), and it all came to a head with the release of her self-titled album last year. As a result, she won the 2021 Taite Music Prize, was shortlisted for the Silver Scroll Award for her song “Don’t You Know Who I Am”, while the album was nominated for five New Zealand Music Awards; Album of the Year, Best Alternative, Best Solo Artist, Best Album Artwork and Best Engineer.

There is no doubt that when the music awards come around again that this album is going to be at the top of everyone’s lists, as it captures the presence and power of one of our most enigmatic performers. I was at a gig recently where I was seated against the rear wall and became aware that Reb had just come in and was stood in the doorway watching the performers intently: there is a real presence about her, someone who is a force of nature even when she is quiet and silent.

“Psyche” starts the album, with a few delicate piano notes and a crying violin, and then Reb starts singing, totally changing the mood and style. This is music which is as much about atmosphere as it is the notes, and within the first few seconds one knows this is an album substantially different to what is expected in this modern mass-produced commercial world. The notes are sparing, not even trying to keep up with the lyrics, so that the ear is drawn just to that voice, to those words. As the song develops, the piano becomes lighter, the bass joins, and Reb’s voice also takes on a different timbre before changing again when the rest of the band start to make their presence felt. I have seen this being compared with Nick Cave and I totally understand where that reviewer was coming from – she doesn’t sound like Cave, but there is that singular presence and emotion coming through the dark veil. Certainly, one could not compare her with many modern singers, as this is just so real that it tugs at the heartstrings and the mind.

From here on in, the album moves through different styles as Reb changes the mood, lightening it here, darkening it there. She allows herself to play with her voice in “Foxbright”, while “Invisible Man” has another very different approach, much more in your face yet with her voice cracking with emotion. This is indie-style music that has roots running very deeply indeed, always with that voice taking the listener on an incredible journey, which is often very different from song to song. There are times when the music is pumping, and one can imagine the crowd singing and moving and then there are plenty of others where all one can do is listen intently and try not to break the spell that is being cast.

We get some Americana with “Heart”, while one of my favourites is “Fisherman”, with piano and her vocals combining perfectly to create a dark and sad visual story in the mind. “Swim to the Star” is another that is incredibly poignant, telling the story of the Titanic. Reb has the ability to create her own world, full of dark atmosphere and emotion, and inviting us in although we need to be careful while we are there as we realise we are in a very special place indeed, hallowed ground.

This is a very special album indeed, from a very special performer. Play this on headphones when there is time to really listen, and you will find yourself drawn into her mystical spell.

Rating: 10/10