Album Review | Laburnum Bridge Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5
Adrian Nation has a rumble of a voice and an easy delivery, the words tumble from his mouth, seeming as effortless as rain on a tin roof but as perfectly formed as water drops. Whether performing his own songs or interpreting others material as the album opens with a powerful reading of Runrig’s “Rocket to the Moon” and closes with a classic Burns lyric, Nation is a distinctive performer. He inhabits a song like “When You Love” finding a beauty and a groove, stretching moments. This is the languid acoustic blues of Bruce Cockburn or the warm well-worn delivery of Show of Hands. Like John Martyn you can listen to the poetry of individual phrases or you can just sink back into the instrumental sound of his vocal. Embellishments like percussion and layered backing vocals just burnish the considerable beauty of Adrian’s voice and his 12 string guitar. Nation desperately wants to take you with him, below the titles of tracks like “The Benderloch Stone” he lists the places where the songs were written. There is a clear relationship between inspiration and song, a strong sense of place in Adrian’s work. Some of the dates span years demonstrating that these songs have been lived with, have travelled and developed over time. This is a labour of love with an investment of time, effort and love. Joel Schwartz from the excellent Birds of Chicago adds electric guitar alongside Jonathan Potts’ low whistle and Hannah Fisher’s fiddle casting a Celtic miasma across “The Benderlock Stone”. Nation is a considerable guitar player and his atmospheric songs are interspersed with some dexterous and beautiful 12 string guitar instrumentals, pieces like “Carpe Meridianus” place his playing and feel alongside masters like Stefan Grossman or newer troubadours like Glenn Jones or Jack Rose, there is craft in his fingers and the guy has some chops. The track “Anarchy and Love”, an album highlight takes the anthemic spoken blues of Bruce Cockburn and rolls it up into a ball of bile and anger. Nation and Schwartz’s guitars spit screech and snarl at each other behind a tense emotional lyric inspired by a graffiti phrase ‘we are the happy future fight now’. The song is a gloriously collision of emotions that titles the album. “Without or Without Me”, perhaps subconsciously, because of the title, has the expansive feel of a Joshua Tree U2 track. The expansive chiming guitars, the breathy potency of the voice, the sense of space all suggest a kind of stripped back U2 at the height of their 80s powers. A symphony of shimmering guitars, lyrical lyrics and a sense of passion, sublime, even anthemic. “Dying of Democracy” burns out of the speakers, a dirty electric guitar like Roy Harper at his smouldering “One Man Rock And Roll Band” best. Another wonderful spoken blues vocal snarls and snakes its way through some vitriolic thoughts on the circular end of civilization. Gino Mirizio’s percussion and Jonathan Potts’ violin add some light and sparkle to the electric guitar on another stand out track. More people need to hear this song and more people need to hear this man. Adrian’s dad gets a heartfelt dedication on the album and his last words form the bones of “River in the Rain” the most emotionally raw and poignant song on the album, a celebration of relationships and a reminder of what is at the core of life. A moment of honest beauty after the fire storm of earlier tracks. To underline what underpins the album the final track is an arrangement of Robert Burns’ “A Mans a Man” an 18th century pondering around what exactly is a true measure of man. Deep thoughts and truths to close on as Adrian celebrates what connects us all. A stirring close to an intensely rich and emotional album that brings together charged political vim, rolling road songs, sparkling instrumentals and a tribute to his departed father. Simply stunning in its breadth and depth.