Steely, soulful rejections of social injustice from Israel Nash
Release Date: 12th March 2021
Label: Loose Music
Formats: CD / Vinyl / Limited Edition turquoise vinyl / Digital
Topaz is the seventh album from Missouri Minister’s son, Israel Nash, and it’s a passionate, soul-laden observation of the social injustices that divide Western society. Israel Nash will, of course, be familiar to many At The Barrier regulars. Often described as a “Metaphysics loving hippie,” he learned his trade in the clubs of Lower East Side, New York City, before relocating, in early 2011 to the infinitely more pastoral surroundings of Dripping Springs, Texas (population estimated at 4,667 as of 2018.) Now housed in a ranch he refers to as his “forever home,” he’s built himself a studio in a Quonset hut, where he spent much of 2020 recording the mix of soul, gospel, psychedelia and folk/rock that forms the basis of Topaz.
Israel names a list of influences that include Neil Young, Dennis Wilson, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Gene Parsons and Pink Floyd, and those influences are all detectable, sometimes vividly, in the ten songs that comprise Topaz. He has a Masters degree in Political Science and his political ideas inform virtually all these songs. He clearly views the deep rifts in American (and, by extension, Western) society with frustration and despair but he seeks to understand the desperation of those who are screwed over by the ‘system’ and exploited by political and commercial opportunism. As Israel says: “Music can be the space where people think – even for just a few minutes. The space is not about changing their lives or political views or their party ticket. It’s about creating something that prompts reflection in a moment – and those reflections have other chain reactions.” Well – let’s hope so…!
Initially, Israel was intending to put his next album together using a group of Austin-based musician friends, but COVID quarantine put paid to most of that ambition. He was forced, by circumstance, to work on the album mainly alone. Rumour does suggest, however, that contributions from Black Pumas’ guitarist Adrian Quesada, the horns section from Afrobeat collective, Hard Proof, and, best of all, the magnificent pedal steel guitar of Eric Swanson all made the cut. The result is a sound that recalls a mix of vintage Crazy Horse, classic Stax Southern Soul and a few swampy hints of Creedence.
The subject of societal divisions is there from the outset on opening track Dividing Lines: a lazy number with a chord sequence that evokes Dark Side Of The Moon, but laden with divine pedal steel and subdued horns. Closer leaves the political frustrations to one side for the moment and pushes an altogether more ethereal message, wrapped up in ghostly vocals and more of that pedal steel, before Down In The Country, a real early highlight, gets back on message with a swipe at the way rural poverty has fueled social division and created the opening for Trump opportunism. And the message is delivered by sleazy horns and topped off by a wonderful guitar solo. Brilliant!
Bass and percussion dominate the dreamy Southern Coasts whilst the smooth, atmospheric Stay sounds like a song that Glen Campbell would have taken to immortality – a sophisticated pop ballad with a lush, soulful edge and containing some excellent guitar soloing. The spacy Canyonheart comes over like a cross between Lennon’s Mind Games and Dylan’s Knocking On Heaven’s Door with its weeping pedal steel and flashes of harmonica that lead into a soaring, anthemic chorus. Even better is the excellent Indiana, a song that seeks and yearns for isolation and solitude and is pure Neil Young, dripping with more wonderful sax and pedal steel work.
We take a short break with the dreamy ballad Howling Wind before we reach Sutherland Springs; for me, the crowning glory of this excellent album. It’s a song about the worst mass shooting in Texan history, during which Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 and wounded 20 of the congregation at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church in November 2017. The song is suitably solemn and sets the scene of the shooting before going on to search for the answers and reasoning that, of course, can’t be found. Tears are wept by the awesome pedal steel and the whole thing climaxes with a chorale of voices and some wild psychedelic guitar. A great song.
Closing track, Pressure, was recorded alone by Israel at the height of the COVID quarantine and it tells a story from the viewpoint of a victim of the faceless ‘system, giving a graphic insight to the frustration and desperation that is endured. It’s another great song with organ and horns that give a soulful feel and the overall effect hints at a meeting between Marvin Gaye and John Fogerty.
Topaz is an excellent piece of work. The horns and the gospel-flavoured backing vocals provide a more soulful feel than Israel has perhaps previously achieved. He was looking for a cohesive and compelling new addition to his critically-acclaimed back catalogue and, in my opinion, he’s achieved exactly that.
Listen to Down iIn The Country from the album here: