LOVE/FEAR (48Hrs in Traitorland)
Stone Barn Records
The State of The Nation Set To Music.
A few years ago Neil Young got a lot of publicity for a poor album when he complained that no-one was writing protest songs any-more. Hmmmm…..Neil should have a mailing list like mine!
Riding high on the success of his previous album Nathan Bell intended writing a follow up made of ‘love songs’ but local and international political events changed all of our worlds at the end of 2016; and in the spirit of all those great Folk Singers through the ages he got righteously angry and wrote these 11 raw and emotional songs; then with only a harmonica and acoustic guitar recorded them over two days straight.
The Big Old American Dream which starts the proceedings is as powerful an opener as I’ve heard in years. It’s dark, ragged and poetic in equal measures with more twists and turns than a prairie wind; and it will keep you rooted to the spot every time you hear it.
The Long Way Down is a classic of the genre; with Bell’s road worn voice straining with emotion; conjuring up the spirit of Townes Van Zandt to get his message across and…..boy…..that message needs to be heard by ‘the powers that be.’
I’ve never been sure what it means when people talk about ‘the human condition’ but I think it describes the subjects in the title track Traitorland Rules For Living In) and also What Did You Do Today? Springsteen sings ‘blue collar’ songs but these characters have blue collars that are frayed at the edges with no sign of a replacement. Listen AND learn.
The album is sort of split into two, with the final five songs being performed ‘live’ , in the studio I presume and things actually get darker and deeper.
Coal Black Water is a fascinating song; being written and performed before President Trump repealed several statutes undoing coal mining legislation; thus ‘creating jobs for Americans’. As a son of a miner myself; Nathan Bell captures my proud Father’s spirit in as much as he hated his job and never wanted his four sons to follow him down that hole and Nathan tells a similar story.
MIA (Bill in 75) tells a story of a bright young man who went to Vietnam and came back a broken man; in much the same manner as Slaid Cleaves sang about on his last album Still Fighting The War.
The first time I heard So Damn Pretty I was left stunned in my chair. A type of ‘talking-Blues’ Bell captures the heart and spirit of the woman in the story in a way I’ve probably only ever heard Guy Clark manage…..and that’s quite some compliment.
I’m not sure an album like this needs a ‘favourite song’ but that’s how I roll; so I’m choosing a song about something I too saw in 1968. I was 10 going on 11 and wasn’t sure what it meant when two (black) American sprinters in the Olympics hung their heads and raised leather gloved fists when their national anthem was played. Nathan Bell captures the spirit of that evening in a Blues lament worthy of Robert Johnson or Billie Holliday.
Obviously not an ‘easy listen’ and nor was this album meant to be and nor should it be, as Nathan Bell unravels not just America’s underbelly but if you stretch your imagination the underbelly of the Western World.
Released May 12th 2017