REVIEW: Nick Nace’s “Wrestling With the Mystery” Tells Penetrating Tales


Cut from a James McMurtry mold, this Canadian to NY to Nashville singer-songwriter has penetrating tales. What sets him apart is that he tells them with choice lyrics. The LP has a presence, a haunting arrangement with a crisp acoustic guitar that will grab ears. Recorded in Nashville, “One More Song” kicks off the strong 12-tune Wrestling With the Mystery (Flour Sack Cape Records) that drops Oct. 25th.

Nace drops the McMurtry sound when he goes for the jaunty upbeat “Back on the Radio.” Mindful of 70’s singer-songwriter Larry Weiss who penned & sang the original “Rhinestone Cowboy,” Glen Campbell took to the top 10. This song has a clean retro lead guitar & Nace’s acoustic.

Producer Jon Latham & Steve Cooper add lead & acoustic guitars each; Chase McGillis bass / upright bass; Erin Nelson pounds drums & Megan Palmer saws a violin & sings.

One of the catchiest chiming guitar tunes is “Fly In a Bottle.” It explores regrets many of us have & seldom admit to. There’s no pickup trucks, bandanas, whiskey or cowboy hats here. While “Wine & Dine,” puts a big toe dipped into Roger Miller’s novelty-oriented pond it shows Nick’s sense of humor. Maybe a little more John Prine or Randy Newman edge & this would’ve been more provocative & whimsical.

“Her Favorite Dirty Joke” is a jewel.

This is well expressed & squeezes every drop of country-heartbreak from Nick’s tube of creativity. This should be easily covered by a major talent if Nick doesn’t score it deservedly on his own. What I like — Nick maintains his musical originality along with his influences, & who he almost sounds like – but, by suggestion-only. Nick changes voice from track to track. He offers compelling tales that keep him broad-based.

“Old Records,” strongly & richly ambles into Jerry Jeff Walker territory (the legendary original “Mr. Bojangles”) & Bob Lind (the classic “Elusive Butterfly”). Which is good. Both artists were great in their day.

With “Moonbaby,” Megan Palmer adds a delightful vocal & presents yet another sound for Nick. Together — quite good. What’s pleasant about this showcase is that Nick doesn’t go hard into country or folk. His forte seems to be – uh, alt-traditional. He possesses many old styles that he sufficiently offers freshly minted. It’s like a taste of Blackjack or Clove gum for the first time.

“Wake Up Next To You,” — a beautiful ballad with colorful words far & away from the sugared clichés of today’s commercial country music.

Nick returns to novelty with “White Trash Southern Belle.” He wanders into Johnny Bond’s (“Hot Rod Lincoln”) basement. But he does it with good humor & not silliness. It’s easy to forgive. The closer to this 47-minute CD is “Grandpa’s Old Guitar,” – it won’t go top 10 but this song polishes the decades’ old traditional music to a high gleam — the chorus was a nice touch at the end. Wonderfully captured on this:


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