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Amiria Grenell - Album Review: The Winter Light

12 Mar 2024 // A review by Danica Bryant

Otautahi folk singer Amiria Grenell boasts many accolades to her name, and her new album The Winter Light will surely add to the pack. This is a cozy collection of classic folk songs, grounded in nature, family and the endless search for true peace. Its themes are perfectly reflected in its promotional imagery of blues and greens, in soft, comforting fabrics and outdoor environments. Every song is connected by Grenell’s liquid voice, warmly inviting you into The Winter Light’s deep inner world.

“I’m tired of this,” Grenell plainly begins, her sunken voice cutting through chatter deep inside a crowded bar. Smooth, slinky basslines and delicate keys soon come sweeping in, to craft the dynamic and proudly Kiwi opener Oamaru By Night. Country music is deeply ingrained in the culture of the South Island, and its humanity is at the core of this track, making the case for Grenell as the genre's standout modern voice. The quaint, twee love song Romeo follows, an already released single controlled by jaunty pianos. Exhaustion in the pursuit of happiness, and by association its presumed level of peace, proves to be a common theme across the record. Here, Grenell’s fear of losing her chance at a picture-perfect life simmers beneath the song’s contrasting breezy sonic direction, as she calls for her future lover to “Hurry now, hurry now”. It’s amplified by the subtle male backing vocals that tug at her melodies right across The Winter Light.

The album’s production is highly polished but maintains a live feel with its real instruments. Every detail is applied with a steady hand. On songs like The Ghost In You, the sweet mix highlights the carefree folk feel to the songwriting and emphasises the effective simplicity to Grenell’s vocal. Beautiful strings blossom across the record, but most notably take pride of place on the title track, which takes a sudden pivot away from the muted approach to build into an intense, expansive instrumental finale.

Country’s classic theme of resilience also stands strong on The Winter Light, layered with additional themes of how gender dynamics and family traditions impact such hardships. “You said ‘grow up like the others, don’t let any man get in the way’ so I grew up strong just like my three brothers”, Grenell croons on When They Roam. It’s an immediate standout in its story of travelling through life’s struggles, broad in its relatability yet still equally personal to its narrator. Mother Daughter similarly pulls at the thread of family connection, imagining a way to “rearrange the palette of pain” caused through shared womanhood.

Suzy Blue is another genre standard and album standout, sharing musings on a mysterious person who brings joy and love to the narrator’s life. It follows the tradition of named devotions like John Denver’s Annie’s Song, or Sugarland’s Genevieve. The song's laidback style feels like “laying in sunshine” detailed with acoustic guitar harmonics that lift Grenell’s dreamy lyrics to the high heavens.

But after nine rich, full-bodied songs where Grenell's performance is largely accompanied, The Winter Light comes to a surprisingly sparse close with its finale Burnt Coffee. It’s purposefully stripped down to the bare essentials of Grenell playing guitar and singing alone, over the distant chirping of birds outside. You sit in her living room as she plays for only you. The plain, emotive lyrics spell out heartbreak, right as it begins to uncomfortably dull. “I can smell burnt coffee, I can see the birds, I don’t see you no more, and I miss your words.” Its tale of coming to terms with loss aptly sits at the end of the album’s narrative. The imagery is highly expressive and visual, imagining dogs and rain and a soothing scene that emphasises the setting’s tranquillity, in direct contrast to the sombreness of Grenell’s words. Burnt Coffee is not a song that leaves you quickly.

The Winter Light is not so much about the sparsity and darkness of winter itself, but the feeling as we watch it dawning, and the strange comfort we find as it sets in. Amiria Grenell’s third album is easy listening on the surface but reveals immense detail and emotional complexity the more you listen. It’s a stunning ode to the genre Grenell loves, and so clearly wholeheartedly belongs in.


About Amiria Grenell

Daughter of legendary country musician John Grenell, Amiria grew up on a farm in Whitecliffs, Canterbury, where her family hosted decades of music festivals in the back paddocks. She has followed her heritage into a colourful and long-standing career as a touring artist and respected songwriter. Winner of a Tui NZ Music Award for her album Three Feathers (2011) and finalist for the same award for album Autumn (2015), her new album The Winter Light is sure to be yet another album to be embraced across Aotearoa.

Photo Credit: Naomi Haussmann & Michael Gilling

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Amiria Grenell


The Winter Light
Year: 2024
Type: Album
Year: 2015
Type: Album
Three Feathers
Year: 2011
Type: Album

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