In the first of an occasional series on great albums, that on their initial release went under the radar, but are long overdue recognition as a classic of their chosen genre, meet Urban Nomad from Winnipeg, in Manitoba, Canada. Their self-titled and in fact sole album, Urban Nomad from 2012, is a progressive rock classic with a modernist take on the genre. A creative landmark, that eclectically welds together progressive rock influences as diverse as Gentle Giant, Camel, and the Canterbury scene, together with elements of jazz fusion, the song writing of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and even metal, to name just a few. It’s an album that once heard can never be put down and will be returned to again and again.
To set the album in context, it is an independent home production recorded and mixed over nine months from October 2011 to June 2012, and released on the 11th October 2012. It spanned nearly three years of the band’s song-writing work. At the time of its release, the band described being inspired to help to modernise and diversify the progressive rock genre. The Urban Nomad musicians are:
Will Neufeld – Vocals, Pianos, Organs, Synthesisers and Composition
Nick Rempel – Guitars, Vocals
James Neufeld – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Justin Kroeker – Bass
The album was modestly described by the band on release as an EP, and contains five tracks, track three containing three linked movements, giving us the five tracks in total. It clocks in at over half an hour and musically operates like one continuous suite of music. Think of Jethro Tull’s Thick As a Brick as a point of reference. The tracks are:
- Falling Into Blue
- Between Two Worlds
- Living In Exile: A Young Winter; The Place of Dead Roads; The Eye of Dawn
The album opens with the sublime Falling Into Blue which begins with some lovely staccato Fender Rhodes-like piano, counterpointed with some warm and ringing guitar phrases. The song is very strong compositionally, with its melodic construction, storytelling and harmony vocals, musically referencing Crosby, Stills and Nash on their classic debut album. The lyrics speak to bittersweet regret and losing one’s way and course in life, with an evocative set of opening words:
“I recall climbing up to the highest heights, but I was teetering on the brink/I thought prevailing winds might ground me, but I never would’ve thought that I could sink.”
There is a fabulous jazz swing to the syncopated rhythms on this track with swathes of crashing cymbals and keyboard washes on electric piano and organ, that will take you back to the musical imagination of Soft Machine and Caravan from the Canterbury scene. The synthesizer playing has a melodic timbre that effortlessly communicates empathy and warmth, in a way that only the best players can draw from this instrument, think here of the much-missed Chick Corea and Return to Forever.
The second track Between Two Worlds thrillingly moves into heavy drums propelled metal-styled riffing before segueing into a jazz-funk spacey instrumental workout. Hammond organ and funk-fuelled guitar parts cross over each other in a quite dazzling way. This is music that you can dance to while also savouring the musical intricacy and heavenly melodies. The drumming here is precision driven, exhibiting the quality of John Coltrane’s marvellous drummer Elvin Jones.
There is a shouting at the world and a sense of despair in the lyrics, which is complemented by the electric guitar coda which has some wonderful melodic and emotional soloing that just flies out of the speakers. The final sequence in the track brings the metal and jazz themes together, in an unbelievably seamless merging of both doom metal and jazz fusion musical styles.
The three-part Living In Exile begins with some atmospheric electronica resonant of eerie howling winds in winter, introducing the quieter almost lilting initial musical sequence of A Young Winter. The musical flow of this suite of three linked musical pieces reminds the listener quite wonderfully of Camel and their Snow Goose album, with some fabulous switches of time signature, and the guitar and keyboards selflessly coming into and out of the mix to take the lead, in a breathtaking musical handing over of the baton. The drums and bass bring a range of contrasting underpinning rhythms, ranging from a southern rock shuffle rhythm of the type perfected by the Allman Brothers Band to the polyrythms of Yes at their most complex.
The Place Of Dead Roads sequence has both a hard-edged musical attack and a funky rhythm and blues feel. A fantastically moody Hammond organ solo is followed by a clipped and delicate flowing guitar solo, that just darts around the room, in the way Larry Carlton could achieve on those classic Steely Dan albums.
The final sequence has an inspired lead vocal with the whole band locked into an anthemic almost telepathic piece of ensemble playing, that references different musical motifs from across the album, and concludes with some stirring lyrical couplets, including a beguiling articulation of trusting the road and process ahead: “I have seen the sun, there is no need to run, set your eyes on the horizon”.
Discovering and listening to this album is a journey full of musical surprises, and has the thrill of finding a new friendship, that feels like it will last for a very long time. Be good to yourself and begin your musical journey with Urban Nomad.
You can still access the album through Bandcamp and on some of the music streaming platforms.
Urban Nomad morphed into a new project under the name of Teleharmonium, with the original Urban Nomad keyboardist, drummer, and bassist, and additionally featuring male and female vocalists and different guitar players, who you can also check out on Bandcamp and their Facebook page
Many thanks go to Lewis Allen for introducing me to this lost gem of an album.