A Great River (Neurot Recordings)
While singers that play acoustic guitar are a dime a dozen these days and most of them are terrible BOB DYLAN wannabees, occasionally a real artist comes along and surprises you. Of course there is nothing typical about Nate Hall and A Great River. It’s not like the music you’ve heard on line at your favorite, $7 a late joint or coffee shop. Hall is the front man of USX (a.k.a US CHRISTMAS) and is no stranger to the solo guitar and voice as a vehicle of expression. Although USX is known for their harrowing psychedelic jams, both the band and HALL have performed stripped down of late. Here we see the master of song craft with little at his disposal beyond the six string, a few effects, his potent lyrics and pained voice to convey his feelings. The entire album was recorded in one sitting one night last year as HALL told Metal Army in an interview not too long ago.
“The Earth In One Cell” quite literally sets the tone for the album with the opening notes. Starkly played chords, chiming figures and a slightly delay-affected voice give the music a haunted quality. A drone-heavy guitar sings over the top of the melody between verses for even more gravity. HALL’s smokey-sweet voice cuts through with his delivery of his heartfelt lyrics about the human condition. “Dark Star” is a little longer in scope and a bit slower to unravel its mysteries. Cool motif’s are again highlighted by guitar effects and bare guitars. Nate paints pictures with his words that are more broken, yet hopeful than you could imagine. His beautiful higher vocal range, not often heard in his main band, is on full display during the chorus. The ending lines “to cancel it all” are repeated like a mantra and just stays with you for hours. “Kathleen” changes gears somewhat. Delicate picking that almost sounds like a lullaby sets the mood. HALL, now dusky sounding, lets words escape his mouth in phrases, rather than forcing his vocal lines. The instrumental “Night Theme” has a little more urgency to it, both in its short form and its choice of notes. “Chains” shows off a bit of a perky, countrified pickin’ style that reminds me of WAYLON JENNINGS or HANK WILLIAMS SR. Simply chilling and honest writing with almost a philosopher’s frame of mind lyrically. “To Wake And Dream” comes in at under a minute, but packs a punch with some slide guitar. “Raw Chords” is another dreamy, bluesy folk track. The sustained chords and more elongated passages make the track expressive and even the vocals have this same quality to them. “Electric Night Theme” is the slightly revved up cousin to the earlier track, stretched out a bit longer for your mind’s eye and ear to enjoy. The hymnal style “When The Stars Begin To Fall” features only Nate’s voice A capella style and some box car trains in the distance. The final track is the title track and it is a wonder. Hall brings you in to his world and shows you all of the ugliness and the beauty at the same time like all the greats do. Although you could name all of the great folk artists to strap on a guitar and he would be in the wheelhouse with them, I think of this music evokes such company as TOM WAITS, JIM CROCE, MARK LANEGAN or even WOODIE GUTHRIE. You can find the album at the Neurot Recordings webstore.
By Keith (Keefy) Chachkes