First Impressions: Malin Pettersen’s Wildhorse

So, after reading a few positive reviews, I lassoed this Wildhorse a few weeks back and immediately fell under its spell. Norwegian singer-songwriter Malin Pettersen’s ethereal vocals fly atop a captivating set of songs, essentially a high lonesome sound that aches, breaks and shakes the heart and soul. The 11 songs – nine penned by her – conjure the country music of yore, yet blends a modern sensibility into the proceedings.

Obvious influences (to me, at least) include Emmylou and Gram, Waylon Jennings and Dwight Yoakam, yet those forebears never overwhelm the music; rather, they buttress it. From what I’ve read (and this article and this article are recommended), theirs are the songs that course through her veins, so it makes sense that she’d express herself via the same musical language. (As the above articles detail, she’s loved country music since she was a kid, when she sometimes joined her father – Ivar Brynhildsen of the group Country Heroes – on stage with his band.)

I hear echoes of Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs,” for example, in parts of “Hometown.” Whether intentional or not, the slowed-down motif works as an artful homage – much as Yoakam’s tune paid tribute, in similar fashion, to one of his heroes, Buck Owens.

In any event, here’s a stripped-down performance of the song:

Likewise, “Weightless” – another standout track – channels Spyboy-era Emmylou. “People used to tell me still water was the deepest/I used to hope I’d lose my tongue/But now I’m older and I know better/And I know they were wrong/And now I wanna live/With everything that I’ve got/Cause everything I’ve got I have to give/And everything I give I get in return.”

If you listened to one or both of the above clips, you pretty much heard the sound of time stopping. That’s what happens for me, at any rate; I lose myself in the videos – and the album as a whole. (As I sometimes say, “it takes you there, wherever there is.”) In some songs, her vocals remind me of Emmylou Harris; and, as on “Let’s Go Out,” I hear Kasey Chambers.

The closing “Queen of the Meadow” is another gem. Here’s a live in-studio rendition:

Recorded in Nashville in September 2019 and March 2020, and backed by some of Music City’s top session musicians, Wildhorse is one of my favorites of the year. (As I noted yesterday, it’s among my Top 25 for 2020.)

Here’s the track list in full:

Finally, for those who haven’t seen it, this compelling clip finds her performing four songs: “Get You Back Again” from her 2019 Alonesome EP, and “Hometown,” “Let’s Go Out” and “Wildhorse Dream” from Wildhorse. It makes me yearn to see her in a live setting.

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