Blood Like a River
Stone Barn Records - NBSB1309
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker
As an atheist, semi-Marxist, and zen meta-anarchist, a political philosophy claiming precisely one member (me), I have to say I'm extremely satisfied to see the abundance of proletariat art now issuing in the wake of increasing discontent with the dysfunctionality and horrors of capitalism. Grant Peeples comes first to mind in such matters, as his is so indomitably a muscular and unwavering no-compromising voice, but Nathan Bell, with whom I was completely unfamiliar until receiving this highly impressive disc, donned lane shoes in the same bowling league, works at the same car repair shop, and tosses back brews in the same roadhouse. His is an exquisitely stripped-down true rootsy folk music void of any distractions from heart and soul.
The intro cut, Names, is what sold me on reviewing the disc. I was riveted when his PR agent forwarded the link to it and, to her request to critique, answered "Oh hell yes!" five minutes after getting the e-mail. Blood Like a River is a disc that'll freeze your heart but put the light back in your eyes, if you can see through the tears. After Tom House's landmark 2012 Winding Down the Road (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it's still unknown, but, trust me, it'll some day be discovered, hopefully soon, and skyrocket, making Frank Gutch, Jr. and me damned prophets), it's one of the most affecting discs I've heard in recent times because the entirety of the repertoire is so personal, so intimate, so grassroots philosophical in transcendently ordinary consciousness.
Ah, but there's an even more wondrous part present: everything here, literally everydamnthing, is just and only Bell. He sings, plays all instruments, produced, recorded, and mixed the entire affair. The result sounds like it emerged from a very carefully considered session at Quantum Studios in Hollywood. Pure art is in Bell's blood, as he issues from renowned poet Marvin Bell and witnessed giants like Studs Terkel and Kurt Vonnegut traipsing hither and yon within a literary circle his dad was numbered among. 15 years ago, though, Nathan gave over a promising music career, noted even by Rolling Stone, to disappear into the Tennessee hills to build a home and raise a family.
Now he's back and every inch of Blood is imbued with sweat, toil, heartache, hope, hardtack observations, and the sanguine fluid for which the disc is named. Then there's the music itself, carefully architected to sit side by side with the sometimes murderously no-nonsense honest poetry, a conglomeration of words putting to shame wordsmiths possessed of vast vocabularistic concatenations which end up saying little to nothing, just read sweetly to the eye for a moment or two, soon forgotten. Not so with Bell's words. This is work that harks back to the days of Townes van Zant, Mickey Newbury, of course Dylan, and figures like Tom Rapp and Harry Chapin, gents who worked in various ways to meld realism with Humanistic concern and a complete absence of the excesses of materialism and bullshit so relentlessly peddled by media. Blood Like a River, in other words, is an oasis…but a dark one unwilling to pour saccharine into its lifegiving waters.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.