One of my favorite parts of writing for Americana Highways is having a piece of music cross my desk with a genre that I can’t…quite…pinpoint. A couple of years back, I was gifted tickets to see Israel Nash at Globe Hall, one of my favorite Denver venues. I knew a little bit about him before the show, but my main takeaway from the evening was his remarkably BIG sound. His new album, Topaz, doubles down on that expansive aura while maintaining a dreamy-folk intimacy. It all amounts to what I might call Texas psychedelia.
Nash was raised in the Missouri Ozarks and honed his musical chops during a stint in New York, but a move to the Texas Hill Country is what brought out the best in his sound. Topaz was recorded in a studio he constructed in a Quonset hut on his property, and the record was largely laid down by Nash on his own before bringing in other musicians from Austin. But this is no quiet singer-songwriter project – it’s full of soaring choruses, horns and Nash’s full, expressive voice. The first track, “Dividing Lines,” is the singer’s look at our self-created divisions – “Love runs and hides/Every time it’s around.” As it turns out, one of those divisions sprouts from Nash’s choice of profession. “Closer” looks at the small joys amid bigger sacrifices of a touring musician – “Strumming chords/Making friends/Rolling Js/And losing money.”
While the first two tracks exemplify that big, open-road sound, “Down in the Country” has a 70s R&B-meets-Chris Stapleton feel, driven by horns and topped off with a knock-out guitar solo. “Southern Coasts” has a dreamy, synth-y quality that matches its call for relative quiet – “We should go to the southern coasts/take it slow for a while.” The album’s centerpiece, “Canyonheart,” though, is Nash at his 70s AM rock radio best – somehow both big and stripped down, with a simple plea for love – “Come on down and you will find/My heart is a canyon/The flashing flood won’t drown you out.” Full of slide and harmonica, its wide-open sonic palette might just have you grabbing your keys and pointing your car west before you know what’s even happened.
More serious are the last two songs on Topaz. “Sutherland Springs” recalls the tragic church shooting just down the road a piece from Nash’s Dripping Springs studio. The song mourns both the victims and the fractured peace – “Sunday morning won’t be the same.” The song features some gorgeous steel work from Eric Swanson before falling into a cacophony of guitar at the end as Nash aches for his adopted home. And “Pressure” is a soulful look at the a wrecked system where the little guy always seems to lose out. Here, Nash ponders a less peaceful solution – “There’s more of us than them/Together we can stand/And put some pressure on the man.” Nash howls his way to the end of the song, empathizing with anyone who’s feeling wronged or slighted, and it’s a howl that extends well beyond Texas.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Canyonheart,” a sing-along for when we can all do that again.
Topaz was produced by Israel Nash, co-produced by Adrian Quesada (of Black Pumas fame), engineered by Taylor Torres and Matt Gerhard and mixed and mastered by Kevin Ratterman. All songs were written by Nash. Additional musicians on the album include Quesada (electric guitar), Edward Brailiff (piano), Josh Fleischmann (drums, percussion), Scott Davis (bass), Roger Sollenberger (electric guitar), Derek Phelps (trumpet), Joe Woullard (baritone sax), Jason Frey (tenor sax), Eric Swanson (pedal steel, electric guitar, harmonies), Sam Powell (piano, organ, synth), Curtis Roush (electric guitar), Ed Jarusinky (drums, percussion), Seth Kauffman (drums, percussion, bass), Jacob Rodriguez (baritone and tenor sax) and Rockyanne Bullwinkel and Jenny Carson (background vocals).
Go here to order Topaz: http://www.israelnash.com/store