NATHAN BELL – ONLY THE MOST IMPORTANT THING (songs from a sporting life)
2012 – Self Released
When I first received my copy of this album I thought it was just going to be a stop gap prior to the release of Nathan’s sequel to his tremendous ‘Black Crow Blue’album, reviewed here in April this year. (click on link to see that review http://www.americanrootsuk.com/nathan-bell---black-crow-blue.html) Nathan himself described this release as ‘A collection of roughs, demos and guitar/vocals ……’ The fact that it works as a strong album of excellent stories says just about all that needs to be said about the quality of his songwriting. Certainly the sound quality is at times a little below par but that doesn’t detract from what is a fully formed thematic album based around various sports.
All of the songs are written by Nathan, who also plays virtually all of the instruments as well as all vocals. He has a warm expressive vocal style that has a slightly hoarse nuance to it that ensures his individuality. Whilst the album is totally sports oriented there is a strong country feel to many of
these excellent songs in much the same way as someone such as Guy Clark brings to his music. Even for us Brits, despite most of us being less familiar than Americans with most of the sports referred to on this album, there is plenty of great music and storytelling to enjoy. Oddly, with all of these references to popular American sports Nathan himself is actually a striker with an excellent
goalscoring record in football (soccer to him!) although fortunately there are no ‘football’ songs on this album! (I say fortunately only because the world doesn’t need another ‘Nice one Cyril’ or ‘Back home’ etc. not that I’m suggesting Nathan could have been capable of stooping to those depths!)
I’m not sure about who album opener The man in the Box refers to but it does include some of the twangiest guitar I’ve heard for a while and is followed by King of the North, a song that has a high lonesome feel despite being a sports song, a little reminiscent stylistically of an acoustic Neil Young. The ballad of Bill ‘Spaceman’ Lee, includes some lovely twangy ‘country’ guitar on a tale about the former baseball pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos and is immediately followed by A
Guy Walks in to a Bar (The Hammer) a terrific story song that relates a tale of Dave Shultz, ice hockey ‘enforcer,’with just acoustic guitar backing on a song that is reminiscent of some of the old cowboy showdown ballads! Benny the Bomb has a lovely dobro sound on a hard driving tale about an incredible character, a stunt man who regularly blew himself up in stationary cars at speedway circuits just for the hell of it! (Have a look on youtube, I kid you not!) Cleveland Brown (The Ballad of Tim Crouch) has a gentle acoustic guitar that sets a slow moody pace, with Nathan’s talk vocals being reminiscent of Guy Clark and tells the story of Tim Crouch, former Cleveland Browns quarterback, whilst album closer Just Another Reggie Dunlap Morning is a hard driving song, with several nice guitar sounds on a story that relates to the character played by Paul Newman in
All of the songs have a strong story, some quite powerfully evocative, and whilst some of the references might be a little mysterious outside of the U.S. listening to the album and researching some of the characters is rewarding musically and dramatically. Certainly not a ‘stop gap’ album but I’m still looking forward to the Black Crow Blue sequel!