Made when she was still a teenager, Bella White’s debut album Just Like Leaving introduced the world to a truly one-of-a-kind musical talent: a finespun breed of country/folk both fresh in perspective and wholly steeped in bluegrass tradition, despite her upbringing in the Canadian city of Calgary. As she began sketching songs for her sophomore full-length, the 22-year-old singer/songwriter followed her instincts toward an even more daring and singular form of self-expression, allowing herself a newly heightened sense of musical freedom. “Even though I’m still so in love with bluegrass and that whole world, I wanted to figure out who these new songs were without trying to fit them into a particular style,” says White, a British Columbia-based musician who took up guitar at age eight and later learned to play banjo. “Once I started steppingoutside those margins, it really opened the doors for me. I felt completely free to explore and experiment, without being held back by any preconceived ideas of what my music is supposed to be.”
Produced by Jonathan Wilson (Angel Olsen, Father John Misty), Among Other Things embodies a strangely enchanting sound that fully matches the immense depth of White’s inner world—an element brought to life through her lived-in exploration of such complex themes as searching for purpose, the resilience of the human heart, and the deep-rooted tension between restlessness and inertia. Recorded at Fivestar Studios in Topanga Canyon, the album emerged from her free-flowing collaboration with Wilson and a stacked lineup of musicians, including Big Thief guitarist Buck Meek, indie-folk singer/songwriter Erin Rae, Drew Erickson (a multi-instrumentalist/string arranger known for his work with Weyes Blood and Lana Del Rey), and White’s longtime bandmate Patrick M’Gonigle (on fiddle, violin, and tenor guitar). “It was especially exciting for me to have Buck involved with this record,” White notes. “He’s got such an incredible ear for weaving through the songs and finding those little empty spaces that could use a touch of magic.”
In a departure from the stripped-down sonic palette of Just Like Leaving, Among Other Things unfolds with a gorgeously textured but unfussy splendor, etched with such unexpected details as flourishes of organ and Fender Rhodes, delicate string arrangements, and the wild rumble of timpani. But even its most left of center moments, the 10-track album showcases the timeless country musicianship White first developed thanks to her father (a Virginia native who played in bluegrass bands all throughout her childhood) and later honed through years of making the rounds at leading roots-music festivals. To that end, each song is firmly grounded in White’s nuanced acoustic-guitar work and deeply affecting voice—an instrument imbued with wisdom well beyond her years, capable of telegraphing soulful world-weariness and wholehearted compassion with a captivating grace.
For White, the writing of a brightly swaying and steel guitar-laced track called “Numbers” helped catalyze the unbridled creative energy that permeates all of Among Other Things. “I wrote that song the day that my first record came out, which ended up happening in the middle of the pandemic,” she recalls. “I started writing about the confusion of nothing as going as planned, and realizing that maybe that’s just the way life is. The way the lyrics came to me was much more stream-of-consciousness than anything I’d done before—there was no pressure to appeal to a certain genre, and that felt like a real turning point. I just felt this incredible vastness.” In a testament to her innate eloquence as a lyricist, “Numbers” encompasses many of the elements that make White’s songwriting so spellbinding, comprising everything from clear-eyed observation (“The flowers my mama bought me/They only keep for two weeks/And then they just become another reminder/That he’s never gonna write to me”) to sharply poignant wit (“You would think that I should feel happy/But the truth is I feel spent/And the numbers they’ve been climbing/Just not enough to pay my rent”) to the kind of plucky selfawareness meant for free-spirited singing-along (“I’m still no good in lovin’/And lovin’ only leaves me losin’ anyhow”).