Released 9 October 2015 via Loose Music / Thirty Tigers
A feeling of epic, wide-open space imbues this album, the second from Missourian Israel Nash, following his return to the South to record 2013’s Rain Plains. A move to New York in 2006 led to a rapidly growing reputation, support from an eclectic and stellar supporting cast and his self-released debut New York Town. Then to the Catskill Mountains and an indie deal, which led to the release of Barn Doors and Concrete in 2011.
The scene is set right from the opening bars; the tentative, flanged flutes that lead into the opening number Willow; the pedal steel of Eric Swanson painting a picture of a rain-gorged river running down a steeply wooded hillside before Nash’s haunting, vulnerable, vocal come in, cascading harmonies and singing of loss and a quest for hope.
The brief instrumental lead of Parlour Song quotes from classic Western movies with Guitarist Joey McClellan evoking the spirit of long dead gunslingers before the band comes in with a crunching chord. The rhythm section of Aaron McClellan (bass) and Josh Fleischmann (drums) is subtle and fluid, like a sidewinder snaking across the desert floor as Nash, back by a frenzied solo from McCellan, delivers a bold and vicious back-hand swipe at the gun lobby:
“Sooner or later we’ll surrender our guns/ But not until we’ve shot everyone.”
This album oozes class. The subtle funk of this type of classic American-folk rock is notoriously difficult to master, comparisons with the giants of the genre, the Band or anything with Neil Young in it, are often not favourable. But this band not only masters the genre, but bends it to their collective will. And Nash has the confidence, where the material requires it, to add prog and psychedelic trimmings and glimpses of mellotron in the distance.
Perfectly produced and recorded (on tape) by Ted Young in a hand-built studio on Nash’s 15-acre ranch in Texas, this recording is much more than mere homage.
Indeed Nash’s complete mastery of his sound has tended to obscure his considerable prowess as a lyricist. Coat of Many Colours has the flavour of classic CSNY, as Nash mixes vulnerability with longing in a metaphor of the soul lost in the dessert; evoking the first Stephen King ‘Gunslinger’ book. Nash is well aware of the filmic breadth of his vision and his debt to literature. He tells Kemptation:
“As an artist, I am always affected by the art that surrounds us in its varied mediums. These songs are so much about my life and my perception on living in this world and sharing it with those around us. It’s bigger than just music to me, it is a real reflection of me as well.”
This an album that draws the listener in. It is relentless in its seeking and questioning of the world. A sense of oneness with nature and a weary, almost childlike wonder, invades the soul. The meaning almost, but never quite clear, running free just beyond the woods and fields we know. Nash goes on:
“I started getting into the transcendental literature of Ralph Waldo Emerson while in high school and that evolved to other writings and ideas on the natural world and life in general. A big one for me was Walden by Henry David Thoreau. He read books in Latin (so I took 3 years of Latin) and he moved to a shack in the woods to write and moreover to find himself. I have a little more than a shack, but I’m out in the woods too. Nature gets me. It stirs my soul and compliments music for me in a spiritual way that leads me to believe there is something bigger for us all. I understand those writings much more now that I am older.”
The album closes with the anthemic Rag and Bone Man. McClellan and Swanson come shimmering through the trees like wood smoke on an autumn breeze. The last word should belong to Nash’s favourite quote from Thoreau:
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” HDT
Artist: Israel Nash
A record to invade you soul that comes creeping in like woodsmoke drifting through the trees.