First Impressions: Could Have Loved You by Fretland

Earlier this week, I stumbled upon the month-old Could Have Loved You, the sophomore set by Fretland, a Snohomish, Wash., Americana group. Theirs is a sound that features shimmering shades of folk, folk-rock and country, with an electric guitar often glistening above an acoustic bed. The band’s namesake vocalist, Hillary Grace Fretland, sings soft one moment, the tear streaks on her cheeks somehow audible through the headphones or speakers; the next, her voice engulfs the room like a wounded heart in bloom.

Thematically, the album explores love lost, while sonically the instrumentation is sparse yet full; wine flows, hearts hurt and regrets – but not recriminations – linger. The title track, which kicks off the nine-song set, lays down the marker in that sense: “And let it go ‘cause it’ll eat away at your soul/And take a bottle of your favorite wine out on the porch/And let me fade away, let every color run/Turning back to gray, let me fade out with the sun/Let it go.” It’s almost as if we, the listener, have entered a private conversation midstream. As the song progresses, Fretland’s vocals and the expanding soundscape drive the emotion home.

It’s not all about matters of the heart, however. “Too Much” finds Fretland (the singer, not the band) filled with doubt after a night out. She explained to Americana Highways that it “definitely came from a personal judgement on myself, since I can be really hard on myself. If you have too good a time, you wake up the next day, asking, ‘Was I obnoxious?’” In the below clip, they perform it as part of the Everett Music Initiative’s Fisherman’s Village Broadcasts:

The piece de resistance, at least for me, is her duet with bandmate Luke Francis, “Do You Think of Me?” It’s tender and poignant, romantic and wistful, the kind of tune that pulls at the heartstrings. It’s a thing of wonder.

From what I gather, the band formed in 2016 and originally included Fretland’s sister, but didn’t release their first album until last spring. They’re not kids, in other words (though they are kids to me – as anyone under, say, the age of 30 is); their songs are drawn from lived experiences, not over-active imaginations, and it shows.

Often, when I strap on the headphones during the week, the music blurs into the background while I deal with the demands of the workday. Not so with Could Have Loved You. I’d hit play and, next thing I knew, lose myself in the hues of the heart. It’s a tremendous set. One hopes that when/if the pandemic lifts, they hit the road. I’d love to see them in concert.

For those curious, the below video features them playing the album in full.

The track list:

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