TRACK REVIEW: Leah Nobel - This Pain Will Be Useful



Leah Nobel

This Pain Will Be Useful





The track, This Pain Will Be Useful, is available via:


Nashville, U.S.A.




The album, Running in Borrowed Shoes, is available via:


8th February, 2019


MAYBE it is a bit mistimed on my part...


but I am heading to Nashville twice within the same weekend! Whilst I cannot cover the same ground I did with Country artist Maren Morris, I can provide a new spin regarding Leah Nobel. I wanted to talk about the city in general and its variation; bending styles and how her new music is among the most interesting about; concepts for albums and why hers is especially arresting; artists who progress and build from small foundations; diverse talent who can step into different realms and make it work – I will end by seeing where Nobel might head this year. It is rare I get to talk about Nashville so it is not too bad I am back there again. It is a part of the world that is producing some incredible music and we associate it heavily with Country. Whereas Detroit used to be the centre of American music once upon a time I think, more and more, Nashville is shaping up to take its crown. New York and Los Angeles are huge but I think there is something special happening in Nashville. There is a lot of great Country music there but, as with Leah Nobel, there are Folk blends to be found. I have never been to the city – as I explained yesterday – but I am attracted by the richness of the music there and the quality coming through. I always love discovering fresh sounds and Nashville is a lot broader than one would think. Many of its Country artists splice genres together – Nobel is someone who is keen to experiment and not stand still. What strikes me about Nashville is the sense of togetherness and community in Nashville. I associate bigger areas like New York with a certain facelessness and lack of spirit. There are small communities that work together but I see (New York) as daunting and a little disconnected. Is it easy for an artist there to find like-minded people and a group that will support them? Maybe so but it seems like Nashville is a lot more stocked with a warm bunch of people who will support musicians.

I think environment and background can really influence music and dictate what an artist sounds like. If you live in a very busy and packed place then you are going to feel that strain and stress. Maybe the music might have a bit of light but I tend to find there is a correlation between the nature of your backdrop and what you will produce. Nashville is a busy city but there is a lot of beauty and space to be discovered. I do think there is more attention given to New York and Los Angeles and we often overlook Nashville. It is a wonderful climate for music and, as we can hear with Leah Nobel, you cannot define Nashville by a single sound. I will move onto a new subject soon but I wanted to recommend people check out Nashville and the music coming from there at the moment. I do think there is a case to be made for Nashville becoming the centre of American music. I feel the Country music scene is growing and there is this raft of great artists who are mixing genres together and standing out from their peers. In years to come, I envisage the city will continue to recruit musicians and more people will move there. Nashville has some great venues already but more will come through and the most popular there already will survive and grow. I feel Country music needs to address its gender inequality but there are some powerful female artists striking hard. Leah Nobel is someone to keep an eye out for and follow. She has adopted a lot of the elements of Nashville but brings her own shades and personality to the music. I feel she can make a real impact on the city and inspire a new generation coming through. It is exciting discovering these keen artists that have a fresh and wonderful sound at their disposal. It is the way Nobel bends sounds together that thrills me the most.

I will talk about her album, Running in Borrowed Shoes, in a bit but, right now, I wanted to talk about her music and what it contains. There are Folk tinges and suggestions but it is hard to define her in terms of a single genre. Her distinct voice shines through and does not change that much but the music around her changes up and adapts. This is a great balance because we get a singularity but this altering climate. Nobel can put together Folk and Pop together with little bits of Country. It is a heady brew and blend that definitely stays with you. I love all the different elements of the music and how rich it is. This is, as I will explain, apt because Nobel is telling different stories and inhabiting different personas. What amazes me is how accomplished and natural everything sounds. There are too many artists who produce the same thing and they tend to repeat themselves all of the time. Those that offer us something more varied and interesting definitely stand out. Nobel has always worked this way but her latest album is her most expansive and interesting work yet. I love how the instrumentation is not second to the voice. There is a great balance between the voice and composition and one experiences something filmic and gripping in each song. I feel artists do tend to hone their sound too much and you listen to albums and often feel uninvolved. Maybe the songs are too similar and that creates a weariness and predictability. Going forward, I feel Nobel will keep on pressing and bringing new sounds into what she does. I am a fan of the way she works and, in a busy sea of female songwriters, her voice and talent is essential. Is it easy to blend sounds together and make things work? Can it be a risk if you are quite ambitious and varied?


There is something said to being safer and not throwing too much into the mix. I have seen artists who have taken things too far or lost focus. If you do that then it can be hard to come back. Similarly, there are dangers regarding having too narrow a sound and that can create its own problems. I think ambition is great in music but it needs to be teamed with focus and a sense of balance. Nobel manages to put her heart and soul into everything she does but the songs never seem too cluttered or random. Everything has that personality and Nobel sound but there are so many colours and contours that take you by surprise. I mentioned how Nashville is known for its Country music but there is a mentality in the city that wants artists to push things forward and be who they are. Maybe Berlin is the only other city that comes to mind when it comes to that approach. Maybe the German country is bolder regarding sound but both Berlin and Nashville cater to the open-minded and provide music of all different tastes and angles. I do think artists such as Leah Nobel will help bring more people to Nashville and urge new artists to be ambitious with their music. Running in Borrowed Shoes has to be eclectic but it would have been easy for Nobel to lose herself or fail. It is a big and impressive album but she holds everything together wonderfully. Many might be new to genres like Folk and be unsure whether to investigate Leah Nobel. I would say she is one of the more accessible artists and provides these songs that take in so much and appeal to everyone. It is her warm voice and distinct lyrical style that elevates the tones and compositions to dizzying heights. There are not that many artists who have the same skillset as her so, for that reason, I urge people to have a listen and explore her new record fully.


There is something wonderful about Running in Borrowed Shoes. One looks at the title and assumes it relates to a sense of empathy and having to identify with someone else. Rather than walking a mile in someone’s shoes, Nobel has conducted over one-hundred interviews and brought them to her music. I think this is a really great idea. The idea of a ‘concept’ album can make people shudder and recoil but, in many cases, the concept is quite loose or very interesting. I agree concept albums can be a nightmare but Nobel’s endeavour relates to real human beings and their stories. Nobody can object to that and we get these wonderful songs that are more real than anything out there. I do feel a lot of songwriters write about themselves a lot and that can actually drive people away. You tend to find the material is rather focused on love and heartbreak. Not only is this quite depressive but you never get a true sense of who an artist is. A life is about more than relationships and getting your heart broken. We get a fraction of a life represented in music; a side that is very deep and quite revealing. Maybe many feel talking about their upbringing or a specific event is quite limiting and tough but there is not enough variety and challenge in music. I want to listen to a young Pop artist who is tackling something unique or talking about a specific time in their life. Right now, we have this scene that is saturated with the same sort of sounds and themes. I am getting tired hearing the same songs that discuss love or cheating. It is meant to relate to a young demographic but, again, teens are not all about love and relations. They have rich lives and their stories are not being told right now. Leah Nobel’s album subjects might be a bit older, in general, than teenagers but she has drawn tales from all walks of life.

What Running in Borrowed Shoes does is act like this empathetic and open interview series that is translated into music. The singing is from Nobel but she manages to transform these tales into something that is her own. It is hard to turn personal stories into something that resonates musically but she has managed to do it. I do love the range of people she talked to and what come through. It is for that reason you cannot only listen to the one song and leave it at that. I wanted to look at This Pain Will Be Useful as there is a video out and it seems quite fresh. There are ten interesting stories on the album and every one of them has its own gravity and appeal. You might think an album that deals with human experiences and different people might seem to be a bit depressive or lack any sense of connection. Maybe it is hard to empathise with people you do not know and it might be challenging to understand their plight. It is strange to hear an album that is not about the songwriter’s own life but I think this approach will lead others to do something new. I will move on in a bit but I think Leah Nobel has created something that is inspiring and fascinating. These people we do not know get their tales heard and, given the fact she conducted so many interviews, one wonders whether another edition will come out. How often do real and normal people get their voices heard in modern music? There is so much attention around what music should be and how songwriters should compose. The mainstream might still be geared towards the commercial side of things – the same songs that address love and heartache – but there is room for manoeuvre on the outskirts. Leah Nobel is on an upward arc right now but, looking back, she started on modest foundations.


She is signed to Big Yellow Dog Music now but, looking back, she was raised in Arizona. Growing up in Phoenix, she would play open mic nights and acoustic shows in colleges. It seems extraordinary she has grown from this ambitious and keen songwriter to someone who is turning heads in Nashville. Every artist has to start with a slightly less-exciting life and career but Nobel has taken some big steps in a few years. I guess all of those open mic nights and smaller gigs helped when it came to songwriting and her career. You can hear the confidence in her material and, as a live performer, she has grown a lot. She is one of the most striking performers around and her written material and live sets blend. You can tell she picks up a lot from the road and sprinkles it into her songs. Since 2016, Nobel has come a long way. She had a diverse year in 2016. She created an Alt-Pop alter ego, HAEL, as a way to experiment with a beat-centric sound. That persona was featured in adverts and she had numerous T.V. placements – including Grey’s Anatomy. It was around the same time she began working on Running in Borrowed Shoes. I do like the fact Nobel was balancing this more Pop-themed act that was being heard in adverts and T.V. shows and working on an album that was very different. She has always been very busy but I do prefer the sound and flavour we get with the album. I do like Pop music but I think Running in Borrowed Shoes is a more interesting and promising project and one that will captivate so many people. Maybe she will be the first to admit she has achieved an awful lot since the earliest days. Not many artists take such a leap and create so much success for themselves. That is because Leah Nobel is one of those people that takes music by the horns and does not rest.

She is always looking to be different and create something that is unlike anything around. Maybe this is Nashville and the way it urges its artists to be more interesting but it is a blend of her upbringing, her morals and the sounds of Nashville. There are a lot of great female artists around that are not getting the credit they deserve. I am not sure whether Nobel has faced the same issue as Country singers on the radio there: being overlooked in favour of men and seen as a less appealing option. There are issues that need to be corrected but, in general, Nashville has this spirit and flair that inspires musicians to be better and reach further. From the bright-eyed singer from Arizona to the on-the-cusp-of-the-mainstream star right now, it has been a productive and fascinating last few years. I do wonder where she will head from here and what will come next – I shall cover that in the conclusion. I wanted to review Leah Nobel because it affords me the chance to step away from London but also look at an album that takes the listener somewhere special. I like this approach where a songwriter can talk to others and interview them; bring these stories into the music and create something available to all. You do wonder what happened to the people we hear about and what the actual interviews were like. I would be interested to know whether Nobel kept the recordings and they are available to hear. It is fascinating wondering how these conversations went down and why they inspired music. I have not had the time to review the entire album – as I do not review albums – but I have selected one of the ten tracks; the one I liked the most and is a great starting point. Make sure you investigate all the tracks and take the time to digest everything being delivered. Running in Borrowed Shoes is a rich and rewarding album that is very different to anything around. You will be hooked after one listen and it makes me wonder whether there are more stories as-yet-untold from Leah Nobel.

The opening notes of This Pain Will Be Useful are stern acoustic guitar strums that seem to represent a sense of hurt and urgency. Certainly, one feels this tangible force and drive that might be a lost memory or a current pain. I saw the song title and was instantly drawn to ideas around illness and a definite ache. Nobel has said how this pain can be useful; how a seed can grow from a dying tree and blossom into something. We do not hear who the character is – in terms of the inspiration – but it seems like there is tis rather inspiring message. The pain might be emotional or physical but there is never this sense that things are lost and it is useless. Instead, Nobel sings about pain being something constructive that can lead to be better things. We hear of the subject/Nobel liking a song in their lungs and you start to picture this distinct scene. I feel like we are hearing about a woman and someone who might be slightly older. Maybe I am off the mark but that is the sense I got listening to the lyrics. This Pain Will Be Useful keeps a steady pace in terms of the composition and vocal but that means it is easier to capture everything and understand what is being said. That striking guitar sound keeps a certain physicality and heart alive whilst Nobel sings in a very passionate yet soft way. I do wonder who inspired the song and whether their pain was a serious one or something they could recover from. In any case, the message is one of hope and not being defeated by something dark. It seems, whoever we are hearing about, they have been written off and not given a fair chance. They are defiant and determined to make something of themselves. They will rise and take something from that doubt and cynicism. The way Nobel sings it gives the story this very stirring yet compelling tone. She sounds completely committed to the song and like she is singing about herself.

Maybe things have been bad in the past but there is this renewed spirit and direction. Nobel lets her voice swoon and fly and you get a lovely sense of classic singers and a past era. The fact there is little compositional intrusion allows the vocal to shine and tell the story. I do like the pace of the song and the sense of swoon and sway. It gets into the blood and mind and relaxes you. It makes me wonder which person compelled thing song and where they are now. It is clear they have had to tackle a lack of respect and faith and have been maligned. Now, for some reason, there is a sense of inspiration and this new lease of life. This Pain Will Be Useful is a song that will resonate with many people and seem familiar. Many people will have gone through the same experiences and been written off. Instead of letting that pressure get to them, they would have taken a stride and proved people wrong. I get the impression of this older person who has struggled a lot but, at this later stage, managed to make something of themselves. The idea of pain being edifying and useful is one that is not offered explored through song. In terms of tone, there is a little bit of First Aid Kit and Lana Del Rey fused together: a dreaminess and softer voice that has so much grace and allure. We hear about bird singing and brighter skies coming through. I am not sure what has compelled this transformation and betterment but Nobel delivers her words with such conviction, it is almost like she is talking about herself. Nobel sings of songs being sung in cars and parking lots; men making house and all sorts of things. You project these images and scenes and, as I said, there is this cinematic aspect. By the end of the song, you do wonder who this is about and what became of them. I know Leah Nobel has explained some of the songs on Running in Borrowed Shoes and it would be good to know who the subject of This Pain Will Be Useful is. I had to listen back and get another perspective. On the second listen, I was focusing on certain words and trying to piece things together. It is hard to get a clear view of who the person in the song is but Leah Nobel inhabits it herself and makes us curious. Songs that make you dig deeper and wonder about their origins should be celebrated as it is very rare in the modern time. The album is full of these wonderful and interesting songs that all come from interviews and personal tales. I think a lot of modern artists should take this approach to creativity and actually go out and chat with different people. Leah Nobel has shown how deep and intriguing the finished results can be.

Knowing that she conducted so many interviews and met myriad people suggests there might be more to come from her in regards personal stories. Running in Borrowed Shoes is terrific and the fact there is just ten tracks means it is quite tight and focused. You get different blends and angles from each song and a chance to connect with real people – even if we do not know them personally. There has been a lot of love for the album and so many people have related to it. I feel you can only get so much from a record that talks of love and the perspective of a songwriter. It all starts to blend together and is not that different to anything else. Modern music is in danger of becoming this mass of similar-sounding songs that offer nothing new. I love the fact Leah Nobel has done something new and spent time collating interviews with people. It was a time-consuming project and one that would have involved a lot of passion and commitment. I think that is what puts off a lot of artists: the fact they might have to spend time working on something and it would not be instant. I like musicians who can take a different approach and know there is more to music than relationships and personal woes. By turning the lens outwards and bringing other people to the music, Nobel has crafted something that has this unique D.N.A. In years to come, when the subjects are not around, their stories will be preserved for generations to come. That must be rewarding and should inspire other songwriters to do something similar. I wonder whether Leah Nobel is touring soon and will bring these songs to the U.K. It might be expensive to come over here but I am sure there are loads of people who want to hear the songs live and find out more about her. She is a popular artist in the U.S. and I know there is huge demand there. This is good to know and I like the fact that this very special artist has produced something wonderfully original and interesting. Let’s hope this rubs off on other artists and they take guidance from Leah Nobel and...


TAKE the breath away.


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