Album du jour: Nathan Bowles, “Nansemond”


A multi-instrumentalist (primarily drums and banjo) from southwestern Virginia, Nathan Bowles can trace his musical family tree back on the one side to regional clawhammer banjo traditions, and on the other to the “Takoma Revivalists” of the 1960s and later, including such greats as John Fahey and Jack Rose.

But Bowles doesn’t just do old-timey.  According to his website, his music…

…demonstrates the elasticity of Appalachian and Piedmont stringband music and the inherent connections, when those forms are distended, dilated, and dissected…to contemporary improvised and post-minimalist avant-garde music.

Accurate, if boring.  Bowles’s music, on the other hand, mesmerizes and hypnotizes, but does not bore.  Depicting the eponymous historic region of eastern Virginia named for a Native American tribe, his new solo album,”Nansemond,” keeps the listener rapt through seven selections of mostly original composition.  It’s a kind of mountain music answer to Bedřich Smetana’s “Má vlast” (“My Country”), the cycle of symphonic poems that gave us “The Moldau.”

Though, mind you, “Nansemond” is made of far more homespun materials:  Acoustic and electric guitar, fiddle, Bowles’s gritty, plaintive voice, some fairly discrete noise effects (which qualify as homespun nowadays) and, as bardic narrator, the percussive strum of the clawhammer banjo, a sound as lonesome and haunting as a distant train whistle.  Like a good country wine, “Nansemond” may be more rustic than refined, but conveys the unmistakable taste of its terroir.


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